Aphelion Issue 230, Volume 22
July 2018
 
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It seems that it is an election year here in the US. Do remember to go cast your vote on Election Day. It is very important that you exercise your right to pick the political candidate that you prefer. Don't just stay at home, do nothing, and let other people make your choices for you. You have to do it yourself, or you won't get the choice you want. Please, go vote.

Now, that said, what sort of topic can I come up with for this issue? I've pretty much done everything to death. I keep finding myself thinking “no, done that, done that too, did that twice, did that far too often...” OK, that prompted an idea. Take a deep breath, center yourself, exhale... Ready?

How do you deal with Writer's Block? We've all suffered from it. That Dreaded Blank White Page, as Larry Niven called it, the terrible thing that looms so large and threatening. It is intimidating to sit down wanting to write, pulling up that Page, and then being unable to put a single mark on it because your mind goes blank. It happens to me every time I sit down to start a new project. But somehow, I manage to find a way to finally put the words on the paper. I've heard all sorts of tricks from other writers. Head full of ideas, dialog foaming away in your mind, plot points all neatly outlined, and then poof! Nothing comes out. Some people pull up some totally different project and do a little editing on it just to get the flow of thoughts to fingers moving. Others do typing exercises, then once they are in the groove, they delete whatever it was that got them moving. Some people start off with a list of stuff. It might be a story outline, a grocery list, a to-do list, whatever. Once the words start flowing, the method used to prime the pump is trivial. The results are all that matter.

Here's a better question. Why? Why do we get writer's block? It's not as if we do this sort of thing because we have no ideas, no imagination, no tiny little people living in our heads demanding to have their lives recorded. We have all of that, and more. We have entire worlds, entire universes inside our heads, clamoring to get out. I'm not going to say that writing is “like” a form of mental illness. I firmly believe that writing is a form of mental illness. It is incurable, self-induced, and quite beyond the powers of mere Medical wisdom to explain. All those voices in our heads, whole casts of characters, entire worlds spinning madly through the infinite reaches of our imaginations. But show them a Blank White Page and they shut up. They go hide. We have to reach in and drag them out, sometimes kicking and screaming, out into the cold light of day. We snatch them up and fling them down onto the paper. As if to say “there's your bloody stage, already! Now will you please get to the strutting and fretting? I could be out walking the dog, you know. The house needs sweeping. Those dishes aren't going to wash themselves! But no, you wouldn't leave me alone. You wanted out to play. So get to it!”

The inside of a writer's imagination is a crowded, noisy place. We can't help it. We couldn't stop if we tried. Once we embark upon the path of writing, we are well and truly ruined for any other kind of life. We do it to ourselves. Oh sure, we can say that it was something that we were born with. But we know it was actually a choice. We could have just stayed in the living room and watched cartoons. We could have taken up some kind of sport instead. We could have done so many other things. But we chose to sit down and write. Once we take that first step, we can't stop, not ever. Oh, we can redirect it. We can blog, or tweet, or post on some social website. We can even edit someone else's writing. But the one thing we cannot do is give it up. There is no addiction stronger than the written word. There are a thousand other things I could be doing today. There are a million little jobs around the house that aren't going to get done today. Because I choose to sit down and write.

It's a terrible, glorious, painful joy to be a writer. To sit down and throw words at a page. Words that might bring some reader to tears, to laughter, to wonder... Sometimes, someone even gives us money to keep doing it. But the truth is that we'd do it anyway. We have to. We did it to ourselves. No turning back... And guess what? This page isn't blank any more. Ta-dah!

Dan