I have always contended that I don’t have writer’s block. But some days, especially if I am not feeling well, I have writer’s lethargy. I can be slow to come up with the next thing. Writing can become bogged down and I am easily distracted or lose focus and have to return to what I was trying to do previously.
There is evidence that I have often had that kind of problem frequently on this blog. One thing I do to overcome writer’s lethargy is suddenly start thinking about how you can overcome writer’s block. What are the strategies that help me overcome it?
I often resort to “kickstart statements.” These are surprising or deep-left-field items that give the old brain a shot of adrenaline. The picture of the girl with the message blackboard is that kind of kickstarter. I never could have used that thing in any kind of social-media post when I was still employed as a teacher. It has the potential to generate parent complaints and administrative thoughts about evaluations and contract cancellations. But there really are kids who have thoughts like that in your classroom, and I know because not only was I a kid like that myself, I used it as an optional journal topic for writing practice, and, boy! do they ever catch fire when they can write about something like that and they know only the teacher is ever going to read it. It is the way I learned how many of my students had ever been to a nude beach in Corpus Christi or Lake Travis (Hippy Hollow.)
I can also look around the room, or scroll through my media library on WordPress and find an image or an item that generates ideas, responses, and even stories. I scrolled through to find this image of the Gummi Bear, who was a brief internet sensation on YouTube a few years ago coming from German CGI cartoons that illustrated earworm music with dancing green gummy bears. There’s a lot a goofy writer like me can run away with inspired by a nonsense thing like that.
It is also possible to generate new ideas by deconstructing a metaphor in as humorous and convoluted a way as possible. This word-food thing is the result of writer’s lethargy of a while back.
Of course, there is always the ranting factor. This, I think, is a go-to method used by stand-up comedians. They will pick something that is deeply bugging them, like the rats that inhabit my attic and walls during a winter that hasn’t yet completely gone. And they start listing all the ways they can make funny stories about the time the rat appeared on the bathroom floor tiles while my daughter was on the toilet, or the time the dog killed a rat that was in the trap already, but not dead enough not to bite back with the dog’s nose conveniently within the reach of rat teeth. And then they can rant onward about how disgusting rats are. And how can anyone look at a rat face and think they are cute? You look at that evil, beady-eyed face and you don’t think Mickey Mouse, you think plague, disease, the Black Death, and how much the Bank of America lawyer who sued you looks just like that.
So, you can see that generating ideas is easy. And you can write something interesting even on days when you can’t think of anything … quickly. When you have, not writer’s block, but writer’s lethargy.
Ugly Christmas Sweaters and the Criticizing of Them
In the Midwest
where I spent my childhood and early youth, there is a great tradition of making fun of the exceptionally eye-bonking ski sweaters and Norwegian-middle-layer clothing that dads and grandads are given as presents less often than only neckties.
Yes, they are functional in the land of 100-degree-below-zero wind-chill. And they also work as defenders of your male virginity when you are in college in Iowa. But we make fun of them not out of derision, but of love. These are gifts, after all, that are given on winter birthdays and Christmas because the giver loves you. And the creative criticism of them is given only as a sign of appreciation for what they are truly for.
And if you tried to click on the X’s on this sweater of mine, and it did not immediately close on your screen, that’s because this one has special meaning. I didn’t get this as a Christmas gift. I inherited it from my father who died in November 2020. And it will keep my heart warm now until it falls apart, or until the time comes to pass it on to my own eldest son.
this essay is actually about is the nature of good criticism.
The fact that this one is a red Christmas tree decorated with lawn flamingos is not the actual point. One has to look past the flaws and try to judge the effectiveness of how it achieves… or fails to achieve… its intended purpose… apparently to keep rats and small birds out of your yard… or from within a hundred yards of the thing.
if I were to be offended by the revelation of Santa’s sexy black thong, then the thing to do as a proper critic is not to use my power to condemn it, but not to take up the critique of it at all. I mean, if you are actually offended by the thing, you would not want to offer an opinion that some would take as a challenge.
“What? You are telling me that I can’t like Santa’s sexy black thong? I will not only like it, I will love it! And I will buy one for myself.”
the philosophy of the uncritical critic, I would only review this green nightmare sweater of a Christmas mutant demon-dog if I really liked it. Of course, since you are seeing a review of it here, it means I am actually quite charmed by the sweater itself, and amused by whatever seventy-plus-year-old grandmama that has the kitsch-defiant attitude that allows her to proudly wear it… even if it was given to her as a gift by a relative she probably doesn’t really like but, never tells them so.
Doing book reviews one after another (as I have been doing for Pubby in order to get reviews on my own books in return) I have done a lot of the uncritical critic bit. Some of the people I have been reviewing the books of should never have tried to write a book in the first place. But do I tell them that? Of course not. If I have taken the trouble to read the whole book, even though it may be horrible, I am not going to pour cold water on their flame. I have done reviews with innumerable editorial suggestions of what would make it a better story, or a better non-fiction book, or children’s book, or poetry book, or self-help book… I have read terrible books of all of these kinds. And I know the authors did not rewrite the books as I suggested. But in my many years as a writing teacher, I have learned well that you must always point out the fledgling writers’ strengths and ask them to build on those. And some will. Besides the points I earn to spend on reviews of Mickian books, that is reward enough.
Ugly Christmas sweaters and the criticizing of them is how American culture works. Being good at negotiating that fact is a critical skill, especially in the Midwest. But nothing compared to having talent in the wearing of them.
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