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Shelby Foote, The Civil War

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On Writer's Block

Waking up in the morning, my mind swirls with all sorts of things: turns of phrases, essay and novel titles, images -- whole paragraphs leaping out intact, sometimes even whole essays, complete-form.

Between the mind and the page there is a speed bump. It's not all that high, but that's the genius of speed bumps anyway. They don't have to be high. They don't have to forbid. They just have to discourage.

If I understood the speed bump, it would be easy to defeat. My sense is that it is a problem of organization, not of fluidity. It is easy to think of lack of fluidity as the heart of writer's block, the misery of squeezing for that drop that just won't come, but at least for me, that is not it. I am fluid all the time. I slosh from one end of my house to the other.

No, the problem is organization. Which is the opposite of fluidity. You can pour water into an ice cube tray, confining it and compartmentalizing it, and it will freeze and take shape easily enough. But there is the patient work of deciding to pour the water, of taking a moment to interrupt a non-structured day and do something structured -- pour water right now into a structured container with the expectation of enjoying an ice cube some time in the undefined future. It is easier not to be organized now for the sake of later, and so I leave my tray empty in the freezer rather than filling it up.

With writing, there is this ever-so-mild resistance to shape. The words flow, but you have to submit to limits and pour -- you decide this goes here, that goes there, that over there goes in the trash. We who flow are not amenable to that.

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