There are times when working on a memoir, or any kind of writing for that matter, an author feels stuck. “What should I write about next?” “How does this scene fits in with the rest of my story?” Often the writer stares at a blank screen for hours, even days, fearing “writer’s block.” I’ve had plenty of those “panic-stricken” moments and worked my way out of them by doing exactly what I thought I couldn’t do: writing. I put my memoir aside and wrote about whatever caught my fancy: a snow storm that blanketed my town, a child running down the street after his dog. The idea was to write something I didn’t need to write about. Afterwards, I felt refreshed and able to continue with my memoir. Below, is one of those experiences I wrote about that got me out of my writing blues.
The Lady in the Hat
A woman’s hat, the only one in the congregation, genuflects to the words of the Sunday liturgy, a wide brim model that tilts down in front obscuring the wearer’s forehead. Wrapped around the brim, a diaphanous blue ribbon comes together into a bow on the side facing me. The custom of wearing hats at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church had been discarded by women long ago. And she stands out, not only because of the hat, but because of her age. Young women seldom wear hats anymore to church or anywhere. She is barely forty and from across the aisle I can see skin the shade of café au lait and perfectly manicured hands that hold a Bible.
Who is she? I wonder.
On the way out, the rector asks me, “Did you meet Shawn?”
“Thelonious Monk’s niece,” the Rector says, knowing my passion for music. “The woman in the hat.”
“That was…? Oh, the mystery lady!”
She remains a mystery for months afterwards. When I invite her to a fundraising event in New York City—one of those stylish gatherings where women parade their custom-made dresses and hint at donations to the charity they actually haven’t made—Shawn appears in a simple black linen dress and lilac hat that captures everyone’s attention.
But there is more to Shawn than the hats she wears and the whiff of elegance she brings to a room with one of her entrances. I hear rumors about “her tragedy.” But no one tells the whole narrative. Because a few mention something about jail, and I know she has a daughter and no husband, I fill in the blanks. The husband is a rapist and is now incarcerated. The husband has physically abused her and is now doing time. Her husband is…
Actually dead. It takes more than one meeting for all the details to come out. Her husband and his mother had opened a restaurant in a small town in Long Island. At a Christmas dinner, the husband’s brother, a crack addict, goes up to him and pulls the trigger of a small revolver, shoots him dead in front of Shawn, her daughter and the horrified reaction of other relatives. Beside his drug addiction, the brother had been battling mental illness for years. The motive, fueled by drugs and craziness, is jealousy. With the mother and brother as business partners, the addict feels left out. He can’t take it.
“I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks,” Shawn confesses. “Until one day when I turned to Lindsey, who was 13 at the time, and said, ‘Look your father wouldn’t want this. It’s going to be tough, for you and for me, but I expect you to pull it together. Get A’s sin school, no fooling around and no drugs…hear, no drugs ! And as for me, I’ll be sad for a long time, but I’m alive and I will live somehow. And so will you! So, let’s get out of bed!’ ”
When I learn the story, I realize that Shawn, who has now become a close friend, uses hats not only as a touch of chic, but as a shield to protect her from the bullets of the world. Tulles, flowers, bows, if they are beautiful, have a place on her head! They mask the evil in front of her, and she has seen enough evil to last her a lifetime.
How about you? How do you deal with your “writing blues”?
7 thoughts on “How to end “writer’s block””
Lorenzo, what an excellent idea to help writer’s block when writing your memoir, to write about something totally different.
I don’t know about writing blues but for writer’s block, there are several things that I do. Lots of times I’ll read a book for ideas or take a walk with pen and pad in hand or a recorder and concentrate on my story and the problems I am having. Usually by the time I get back home, I’ll have some kind of a break through. Also before I go to bed, I’ll think about my book, hoping to dream a solution…lol. I have paper next to my bed and even in my shower. As you can see, I don’t want any story ideas/thoughts to slip by.
I love your interesting story, Lorenzo, about The Lady in the Hat.
Susan, it’s interesting to see the different ways you confront a writing problem. It’s all about finding what works best. I particularly love your idea of thinking about your book before going to bed and hoping to dream a solution. It shows how our writing mind keeps working even while we sleep.
What an engaging story, Lorenzo! I had never heard of writing blues but that certainly describes the process of feeling stuck. What works for me is to stop trying, walk away, engage in some non-writing activity like playing the piano or doing my laundry, etc. When I return hours, days, sometimes weeks later depending on the project, I see it all with fresh eyes and let it flow. I write everyday but different projects seem to require different negotiation techniques. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. I enjoy your stories and writing tips.
Kathy, thanks for stopping by and sharing your tips on how you deal with the feeling of being stuck. I agree that different projects “require different negotiations techniques.” It’s all about perseverance and finding ways to refresh our minds and eyes so we can go back to our writing and look at it with a renewed perspective.
Como siempre aprecio mucho lo que escribes por tu gran sensibilidad… …….
Gracias, Marielena, tu y Manry son grandes ejemplos de Antillanos de gran corazón. Siempre agradezco tu apoyo.
This is wonderful. Will definitely listen to your advice. Thanks!