I was just finishing up a book-launch event at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, CA, when a young woman in a visible state of exasperation came up to me with a question. “I’m trying my hand at writing, but I have writer’s block. Did that happen to you?”
My new book, “So Happiness to Meet You: Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam” took five years to write. Let me rephrase that: It took two months to write. The other four years and 10 months were spent staring at a blank screen while picking the calluses off my heels and big toes.
So, yes, I had writer’s block.
I’m sure there are human beings walking the planet who have never had writer’s block. And as author Anne Lamott says, “We do not like [them] very much.”
I explain my creative process better in my book:
“To me, writing is as easy and as natural as gouging out my eyeballs with a melon baller. It takes an interminable amount of time to settle myself and get started. I’m like a dog readying itself for a nap, circling, pawing the blankets, rolling and twisting and grunting. It wasn’t until two years later that I discovered that if I start reading random pages in books by some of my favorite authors—Rosemary Mahoney, Bill Bryson, Elizabeth Gilbert, Heather King, and J. Maarten Troost—then the cramps in my head soften and I can get some words out. Then, if no one interrupts me further, I finally quiet myself long enough to write. But if intruded upon, the process would have to start all over again.”
My answer to her, after patting her hand in sympathy, was to recommend “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. Next, get into a writers’ group where each week everyone shares some new piece of writing. And thirdly, chocolate.
Don’t worry. The pain goes away when the book is finished, and you won’t even remember it.