The “Scottish play” of writing

Last week, I wrote about that mythical state called “writer’s block.” Mythical? Yes.

I refuse to acknowledge that it exists. Borrow from Oscar Wilde and call it “the process that dare not speak its name.” Or borrow from superstitious actors and theater-lovers everywhere and call it the “Scottish play” of writing. (See the history of the theater superstition here – though some people have banned the word altogether. I have a friend not employed in the theater whose assistant said it once, and my friend told me a key piece of office equipment promptly broke.) Call it any number of things, but don’t call it a “block” because then it becomes a problem. And who needs more problems?

Anyway, the subject came up twice the other day and I am very pleased to discover that I am not alone. Prolific best-selling author Dorie Clark told me that she doesn’t believe in it either. And I just listened to Tim Ferriss interview Seth Rogen and his writing and producing partner Evan Goldberg. Goldberg thinks it’s bunk as well.

Now that’s not to say they haven’t been stuck from time to time. Rogen and Goldberg said it took them a year to come up with the third act of their movie This is the End. But it’s not like they just sat there staring at the script for a year. They put it away and worked on other projects. They wrote what they could, trusting that either they’d find a way to end the movie or the movie wouldn’t get made. Either way, presumably, they’d be good with the outcome.

And those are the keys here: Being willing to wait. Being unattached to the outcome.

Think about blocks we encounter in the physical world, like doors. If they’re closed and locked—and you don’t have the key—they make a quite effective block,

You can scream and pound your fists on the door, but that won’t make it open. Or you can take a step back and look around. Eventually you may notice that the house has windows, too. Maybe one of them is unlocked. Or maybe you can throw a rock through it and get in that way. Many possibilities, but they only reveal themselves at a distance.

So breathe. Take a walk. Start another project. Write something immensely silly.

And stop calling it “writer’s block.” I think I have a better name: “writer’s process.”

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