Dear Quandary: Writer’s Block Edition

Sometimes we receive such a good Quandary that we just have to share it on our blog. As our annual contests near their conclusion (March 31st!), we hope this post encourages you to push through the impending-deadline brain fog, the creative standstills, the writer’s block.


What follows is an excerpt from our January Newsletter. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter here to receive future installments. 


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Do you have any tips for keeping yourself accountable to writing and creating a large manuscript? How do you block the writer’s block?
– JR

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Dear JR,

Keeping yourself accountable to your writing is simple. You set up a daily writing time, then you sit down at that time, fidget, procrastinate wildly, take online quizzes about which Game of Thrones character you’re most like, and decide you really must learn more about Ariana Grande’s breakup with Pete Davidson. You do these things until your self-loathing overtakes the mental pain of working on your manuscript, and then you get some work done. Or at least, start. It might be one sentence, or line of poetry. It might be one image.

Is this just Quandary? Umm, excuse us. Perhaps we over-reach. Yes, it is helpful, and we in Quandary-Land think, necessary, to allocate writing time. As you can, you, in your particular circumstances, and no one else’s. We know writers who hold themselves to the practice of writing three pages, or ten pages, or a certain number of words per day. But the fact that some of that allocated time—sometimes all of it—can end up dissolved in watching cat videos is also part of this pact. You are trying to reach into your own head and pull out something entirely new and entirely honest. That is painful and damn hard.

If you feel yourself, after many days of trying, getting no writing done, it may be time to try a new tactic. Timed writings, with a group of fellow writers, can be helpful. Decide you will all write from a prompt; rotate who brings the prompt, or come up with a method, like choosing an epigraph for each session randomly drawn from a book of poems. Or write together, on your own projects, using the presence of others and the sense of the clock to get your pen or your fingers moving.

But Quandary is going to go out on a limb here, and say that your writer’s block is your friend. Really? Even though it makes you imagine spending the rest of your life filming your own cat videos, rather than do this impossible thing of writing? We’re afraid so. Remember what Quandary said about pulling something entirely new out of your own head. The fact that it feels so painful is proof that you are doing real work. Writers who write prolifically and on cue are often writing the same thing over and over again. Quandary has done this too, many times. Granted, we all have those writing sessions that go brilliantly and bring with them a gift of something new, something far-along and brilliant. But that is not generally the case.

So thank your writer’s block! Thank it for not letting you slide by, writing something repetitive and crappy. Thank it for forcing you to do that impossible work of pulling something new out of your own head. Let’s focus on just how freaking difficult that is. It feels like giving birth through your eyeballs. But when it comes—and it will—that new thing is going to be at least the germ of something you never thought you could do. Something that surprises even you. You will have exceeded yourself. And that is worth the price of much pain and many cat videos.

– Quandary

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Got a quandary? Address questions to Dear Quandary at the Bellingham.Review@wwu.edu or click here!

Put “Dear Quandary” in the subject line. We love tough questions (should I really not double-submit?). Answers provided by a rotating cast of MFA faculty and graduate students in Western’s multigenre MFA program.      


Featured Image: “images” by Nicola Preti

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