Tag Archives: writer’s block

The Flame

This is a short story coming in the collection for the holidays. I seldom post stories here; they belong on John Maberry’s Writing. I’m making an exception this time. All the writers out there will understand. Plus it’s a break from politics–hurray!

The Flame

Carson sipped Irish coffee, bundled against the chill wind of a late October day on the Outer Banks. He sat on the third floor deck for its view beyond the barrier dune, rising 15 feet above the sand. The swimmers and sunbathers had gone. Only the beachcombers and solitude seekers remained this late in the season. He was among the latter. With the kids away at college and Sharon at her sister’s to “think about us,” he couldn’t face the empty house in Alexandria. Reading the backlog of beach books almost kept thoughts of Sharon’s surprise announcement away. He had just put down a thriller when he looked out to see a fiery column rising above the waves. It must have been a mile or two offshore. Only the bright yellow plume could be seen, even with the high-powered binoculars. No ship. No people. Nothing. What the hell is that? There’s no gas line out there. The sight had him baffled.

He called the Coast Guard at Hatteras Inlet. “Coast Guard, Petty Officer Harris speaking. Is this a boating emergency call?”

“No, I don’t think so. I’m looking offshore from Buxton, seeing a bright flame coming up from the water.”

“How far out is it? Have you seen any ships in the area?”

“A mile and a half, maybe more. Hard to tell from the shore with no landmarks to go by. No ships out there or anything else that I can see. The plume looks about the size of a power pole from here and goes up fifty or sixty feet from the surface.”

“Ok, we’ll send a boat to check it out. Thank you for letting us know. Please give us a call if anything changes.”

“Sure. Oh, and I didn’t hear any explosions or anything. One more thing—the flame isn’t bending much in the wind; looks like it’s under pressure. It’s yellow, by the way.”


Carson figured at least 45 minutes, more like an hour before they showed up. They’d have to come around the inlet to the oceanside and through Diamond Shoals, also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic for all the ships that sank there over the centuries.

While waiting for the Coast Guard, Carson refreshed his Irish coffee. Barely three PM and he was on his third drink. The caffeine kept him up enough and the whiskey dulled the pain. The pain of not selling a book in ten years. Sharon’s billable hours at the DC law firm kept them financially flush. She’d made partner just after his last book sold. No coincidence his writing suffered after that. It took a toll on the marriage.

“So you think the booze will help the stories along, Carson?” That’s what she said, more than once, when she found him staring at a blank monitor slurping a drink.

“Hey, it worked for some of the greats,” he’d laugh before slamming down the glass. “I don’t know what will help. I’m trying; the ideas aren’t there—the words won’t appear without them.” That’s when the blowups came. Hurricane force words flying between them, loud as a storm screaming through the room. She once was his muse. No more.

Continue reading The Flame

Learning How to Be a Writer–Part 2

Last week we presented some edited excerpts from a series first published in the Eagle Peak Quarterly on learning how to be a writer and thinking about where. This week we’re offering some general tips applicable to most writing and to writing nonfiction.  Next week we’ll cover fiction writing and the mechanics of writing. If you missed last week’s post, get it here

General writing tips

Medieval scribe writing

  • Find a quiet, distraction free writing space if possible—make it so with headphones, a door or other means. Writing is a mental exercise; don’t try to multitask.
  • Devote a solid block of time, whenever possible—build up to a few hours, if your circumstances permit, from 30 minutes. Otherwise, you will find it difficult to focus and get into a flow.
  • Make use of the writing tools that work best for you—try pens, laptops, desktops or even typewriters if you have access to one, until you find a level of comfort.
  • Set meaningful goals or determinations for progress—words or pages, time, etc. Some people suggest you must set a goal of X number of words no matter what; others will say you must spend at least a certain number of minutes/hours. It is up to you, in analyzing your own level of self-discipline versus laziness or procrastination (among other things) to make your own commitment in a way that makes sense to you. Artificial rules won’t help and will only frustrate you.
  • Have everything you need to be comfortable—clothes, food, beverages and the right chair; you can’t write if you are uncomfortable. Poor posture is not good for the body or the mind. Use a keyboard properly to avoid wrist problems. Blink and look away from a monitor from time to time to protect your eyes.
  • If you are using a computer, consider what software you will use for writing. Word-processing software will work for a start. Eventually you might want to consider specialized software such as Scrivener (usable on both Mac and Windows). If you want to blog or put stuff up on the web, you don’t necessarily have to start with a word-processor but it’s not a bad idea to get your work together in the final form you want before you load it up on the web.
  • Is there such a thing as “writer’s block?” You have heard the phrase often enough. It means you are staring at a blank page and can’t figure out what to put there. Some say it’s a myth or it really is something else. Don’t get hung up on the concept. Consider these options to deal with that empty page.
    • Get up and walk around for a few minutes. Step outside for a change of perspective, fresh air, etc.
    • Open or pick up another writing project and work on it for a while, then come back to the one that isn’t moving for you.
    • Re-examine notes, an outline or whatever planning document you may have.
    • Just work through it, if you can, putting something/anything on the page; you can always change it later.
    • Switch media—put down the pen and boot up the computer or vice versa.
    • Get some coffee, tea or another beverage; have a snack or a meal.
    • Only as a last resort, shut it down for the time being and come back to it later—just be sure you do.

Non-Fiction Writing Tips Continue reading Learning How to Be a Writer–Part 2

Curing Writer’s Block–Whether Maddening or Myth

writer who might be blocked
From a painting by Goya












Inertia—Although I’m not a scientist or engineer, I like to apply a concept from physics to this problem some of us writers face. I see it as the principle of inertia at work. An object at rest tends to remain at rest; an object in motion tends to stay in motion (subject to gravity, friction, wind resistance, etc.). In the case of a writer, one first has to overcome the inertia of being at rest—staring at a blank screen or page, fingers unmoving without the impetus of the mind’s direction. So what’s to be done, with a project in mind but no thought on how to proceed. That’s the classical predicament, is it not? You want, you need to get something down on that story, that article, that page in the novel. But your mind is not cooperating, it’s as if the mind were frozen, locked up like a malfunctioning bit of software on the computer. This is when you might use inertia to your advantage.

Write anything—you can write something can’t you? No, not on the task at hand. Something else. You could write something about that vacation you took last year. The problem with your car that the mechanic fixed. The movie, the restaurant, the play—somebody else’s book that you enjoyed. It doesn’t matter what. Now your writing mind is in motion. It wants to stay in motion as the principle of inertia demands. So when the alternate writing gets up to speed, try shifting to the work that you were initially unable to do. It may not work all the time, but the simple confidence boost, the mental shift may be enough to get you going. If not, instead of choosing some mundane topic of no immediate practical value, you chose to make some progress on another project that is on another to do track, what happens? You will have accomplished something of value, despite the block on the task that you intended to work on.

Physical activity—So maybe doing something else doesn’t help if you have an absolute deadline. Resistance to motion is stronger, back in the inertia analogy, with a deadline. So what else can you do? A little oxygenating, pulse racing exercise for a short time may help. Gets the brain functioning at a higher level. A walk outside, some trips up or down stairs. Nothing that will wear you out, just something to get the blood and oxygen going. What else? If caffeine helps, fine; but note that it might make you more frazzled. Play with the dog or another pet; they’ll be happy for the attention paid to them instead of the intention that the computer or the writing pad gets from you. This is restorative, calming if you find yourself too tense to proceed.

Rest/Relax/Take a Break   Makes no sense, does it? You need to work, not be lazy, right? It’s not lazy if you can escape the grip of anxiety or stress over the inability to do the writing. Take a nap. If not a nap, perhaps meditation or whatever other relaxation technique you use. Be careful with drugs or alcohol. While they may offer relief, they also may offer too much in the way of escape. It’s all in what your mind and body can handle and make use of. A few sips of wine may remove the inhibiting thoughts that locked the writing part of the brain. A few more and you may be inclined to say the hell with it. Mary Jane all the more so. She is a tempting Goddess. Only you know your functional limit. Don’t buy into the historical anecdotes about the authors who must drink to write—unless you are quite sure you are one of them.