A number of my students last week were late with homework and explained they had problem with the assignment because they had Writer's Block.
No, they didn't. There's no such thing as Writer's Block. We've been over this before.
Whenever writers tell me they're blocked on a project, I can't help but think of Chuck Jackson.
Chuck was assistant city editor at the Passaic Herald-News when a young, inexperienced, let's face it bad reporter started there straight out of college in a year during which there were not yet VCRs, forget smartphones. He was smart, understanding and best of all sardonic, which was exactly what you wanted out of an editor on a daily newspaper if you were a reporter wannabe in those days. He would have fit in well with the editors and reporters we saw in classic movies, except he'd be nicer about it.
When I was a reporter at the H-N, the emphasis was very heavily weighted on local news, and each of us was given a number of towns to cover in the Passaic/Clifton/Southern Bergen County area. Which meant a great deal of scrambling, trying desperately to find news "on the street," (something at which I was especially bad) during the day while attending countless mind-numbing municipal meetings well into the night.
The average day saw each of us writing four articles at least, one for each of our towns and anything else that had cropped up during the day. The paper was putting out a lot of local sections, and that news hole had to be filled.
Luckily, the one thing I could do after four years on the Rutgers Daily Targum (five issues a week) was write fast. I might not have been able to find groundbreaking stories, but I could sure as hell write them well and turn out copy at the speed the insatiable machine required.
Since then, I have worked at a number of jobs, all of which required me to write. I was in public relations for a couple of minutes, and if all that business required was writing press releases, I might have made a tidy living at it. Alas, there was client contact and I sucked at that. Then I worked for a number of years in trade magazines, writing articles about the burgeoning electronics industry that did eventually include such products as VCRs, CD players, camcorders, car electronics (the area in which I worked most of the time) and many others. I wrote a lot of articles for those magazines in the five years I was in that industry.
The pace picked up to some extent when I decided to "take a summer off before I look for the next job" and go freelance. I still had contacts among editors in the trades and I got work immediately. I still haven't looked for that next job. In another seven weeks, it will be 30 years since I decided to take it easy that summer.
Somewhere along the way I picked up this odd habit of writing mystery novels. And no matter what the quality of my work might be to your mind, every editor with whom I've worked will tell you there was never a time my work came in late.
My idea of Chuck Jackson, whom I haven't seen in many years, wouldn't allow it.
So today when a student (or, to be honest, another writer) tells me it was impossible to write this week because "I was blocked," I think of Chuck. I picture the look he'd have given me if I'd been stupid enough to try to use that excuse on him: "Sorry, man, but the muse just wasn't with me today." I'd have been out on the street in a nanosecond, with the memory of an original cutting remark to go with it.
Blocked? There's a cure for that: Just write something. Then you can fix it. You can't fix nothing.
If it helps you, think of Chuck Jackson. Works for me.