The Taunt of the Blinking Cursor
In the 1988 Chevy Chase comedy classic, Funny Farm, Chase plays Andy, a sports journalist who quits his job and moves to the countryside to write the great American novel. He sits in his idyllic farmhouse in a room with a view, a hot cup of coffee close at hand and his trusty typewriter loaded and ready. Andy puts his hands on the keyboard and… nothing happens. He peers deep into the white page. The words must be there somewhere, but his fingers remain frozen. Nothing.
Writer’s Block is the condition that at its most elementary is simply “not knowing how to proceed.” The block is not unique to writers. Leaders face them. Parents face them. You can have a career block, a life block, a drunk-angry-guy-who-wants-to-fight block. When the answer to “What happens next?” is “I don’t know.” We freeze. The cursor blinks on the white pixel canvas. With each flash it taunts us: Blink. Blink. Blink. What. Are. You. Waiting. For.
There are two sources of writer’s block: bewilderment and fear. As the story goes, Daniel Boone was once asked if he had ever been lost in the wilderness. He responded, “I’ve never been lost, but I was bewildered once for a few days.” Bewilderment is when you understand the problem, but you are unsure how to solve it. Like finding your way out of a forest, bewilderment is overcome in time with perseverance. You show up and you work toward a solution.
For me, overcoming bewilderment in writing often means not writing at all. If my problem is: how do I get a character from point A to point B? And all the possibilities I’ve come up with don’t feel honest to the story, I walk away from it. Some call it “percolate” or “noodle” or “brew.” I “circle” the problem. The image of an eagle circling its prey comes to mind.
I believe the answers to writer’s bewilderment are hidden in the daily routines of life: eat, sleep, shower, work, exercise. These are the rhythms of epiphany. I give my mind and imagination space to find a solution. The practice has become so familiar that I can often predict within a day or two when the solution will present itself.
The second source of writer’s block is fear. You know what you want to write, but you’re afraid it’s not good enough. You may think the problem is you don’t know where to start, but really the problem is you’re afraid to start. The blinking cursor taunts you. Blink. Blink. Blink. Who. Do. You. Think. You. Are.
Insecurity is the soul mate of every artist. Just this past week I heard both Steven Spielberg and Shane Black talk about how insecure they feel with every film they make. They are arguably two of the very best at their craft with years of experience and a résumé of success and yet the fear is as real to them today as it was when they first started.
The only way to overcome writer’s fear is to put words on the page. You must write. Something. Anything. Every key strike is a battle cry. With each word you type you forge your way through the wilderness of insecurity. And as you do, don’t look back. The blinking cursor can’t taunt you if it doesn’t have time to rest.