Etymological Constipation (Writer’s Block) Causes and Cures

Hemmingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Although, I do not agree with his source of inspiration the concept of “edit sober” is so true that it’s like a sentence from a sober judge (pun intended). “Edit sober” is the time-consuming disciplined writing that is far less enjoyable than the freely inspired writing that makes us want to run to the keyboard and ticky-tacky our way through a half a dozen pages of potential-Pulitzer writing.

Forced writing is the primary cause of etymological constipation (writer’s block). In its worst stages, the afflicted writer sits and stares at the blank page. “I don’t understand!” They want to scream. “I know I’m full of it–why won’t the words come out?” Do not despair! There are treatments that can help. Personally, I do not recommend the mental laxative that Hemmingway used because all laxatives can become habit forming. I have discovered an all-natural, high-fiber mental diet that is guaranteed to prevent etymological constipation as long as you don’t cheat on the diet.

Writers need to write regularly. Everyday is great! Every other day is good. Every other week means your day job, mental exhaustion, and trivial distractions are dominating the time in your life. By the time all of your other priorities are done and you sit down at the computer, you stare at the flashing cursor. It seems to say, “Well…I…am…wait…ing….”

You continue to stare at the blank page. “Gimme a minute, dammit! I know what I need to do–I mean–I know what I want to say! I’m trying to think–but nothing is happening!”

The voice of the cursor taunts, “Sorry, can’t use that last line, Curly of The Three Stooges said that. Can’t think of something original? What’s the matter, J.K.? Hold your wand backwards and ‘Stupefy’ yourself?”

DO NOT SMASH YOUR COMPUTER! Etymological constipation is a treatable disease.

First step, determine your current state of mind. If you are mentally exhausted from the day’s work then you should limit yourself to editing/improving your previous writings. Editing is one of the few tasks you can do mentally tired. I know because my editor told me that he gets so tired editing my long chapters, but he still manages to do it (or I’ll divorce him 😉

If you walked the dog in the park, ate a nice favorite meal, soaked in a hot tub to relax, sat down at the computer and find yourself staring at the blank page, what you need is a good dose of high-fiber inspiration. Yes, that’s right the pulp of paper inscribed with inspiring words is what you need. Just a page or two of high-fiber writing will break through the blockage and have those words “flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup” (John Lennon/Paul McCarney).

Need help with characters, try a little Dickens: “Mankind is my business!”

Need help with poetry, try a little Poe, “Hear the sledges with the bells, silver bells, what a world of merriment their melody foretells…”

For horror/suspense, read Stephen King. For satirical inspiration, read Mark Twain. For heart and soul, Emily Bronte. For fantasy, Susan Waterwyk (she’s my favorite!)

For extreme cases of etymological constipation, I recommend ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, by L.M. Montgomery. If you ask “why?” then you haven’t read it and/or you have “no scope for imagination!” as Anne would say. Mark Twain said that the book was “the sweetest creation of child life yet written.”

Just a few pages of high-fiber, classic word pulp can break through most writer’s blocks and keep you writing regularly. Regularity is very important in writing.

Sit by the fire, drink some tea, and remember, “Words that march in rhythm…pull the mind along.”



November 19, 2013 · 12:24 am

4 responses to “Etymological Constipation (Writer’s Block) Causes and Cures

  1. Great advice, Susan. You have such a way with words.

    • Thank you, Carol. This one was fun to write and it’s so true. Just a few pages of classical writing from a favorite author can re-inspire and break the writer’s block.

      On Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 6:25 AM, susanwaterwyk

  2. Rachael

    Loved the post, Susan – I love that you not only highlight ’causes’, but ‘cures’! All great ideas to try!

    • Thank you, Rachael. I suffered Writer’s Block often when I began my first novel. My hubby would help ‘treat’ my affliction by reading aloud from some of my favorite classics. Then he would stop and analyze a scene or paragraph, “Notice how she was able to create a scene about swatting a fly with the magazine that had her first story printed in it.” Stuff like that from him would get me to talking, then it’s hard to get me to shut-up. He would leave me alone with the keyboard and I would keep on yakking.


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