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Under The Radar Examines Writer's Block

Cover art from Lev Raphael's book.
Lev Raphael
Cover art from Raphael's new book.

WKAR's book reviewer Lev Raphael is also a writer. He spoke with Melissa Benmark about his newest project, which is a book to help writers beat writers’ block.LEV RAPHAEL: This is a book for every writer out there, for everyone who wants to be a writer, and for everyone who knows somebody who wants to be a writer, which I think is about 75 % of the U. S. population. Because I am always meeting people who are saying, “You know, I’d like to write when I have some time.” Or, “My brother wants to write a book. Can you help him?”

MELISSA BENMARK: Or, “You have a novel in you.”

RAPHAEL: Or “I have a novel in me, can you help me?” Well, this book was written for those millions of people out there who would like to write, are writing, and have been writing.

BENMARK: And it’s called?

RAPHAEL: It’s called, “Writer’s Block is Bunk.”

BENMARK: And do you actually believe it to be bunk?

RAPHAEL: It is bunk. There’s an enormous industry out there creating this idea that writer’s block is a disease that is almost as bad as cancer, and it drives people crazy, and there are tapes and CDs and guidebooks on how to overcome writer’s block.

BENMARK: A self-help sub-genre has grown up.

RAPHAEL: Absolutely. There’s a lot of money in it. But I maintain in the book that it doesn’t exist. That it’s just a normal part of writing. And one of the things I do in the book is offer people strategies for embracing the reality of writing which sometimes means being stuck and moving on. And not turning it into something that will cripple you.

I have beginning creative writing students who have never written even a haiku who will tell me, when they get their first assignment, “I have writer’s block. I can’t do it.” I’ve met people who say “My writer’s block is so bad I can’t sign a check or do a text message.” And it’s bunk.

BENMARK: But I think most people have been faced with the blank computer screen or sheet of paper in front of them with that blankness going through your head. Even a few minutes ago you may have thought you had something to say and now, mysteriously, it has vanished. Is that just something you have to ride out and learn to not be afraid of or what?

RAPHAEL: Absolutely. It’s a normal part of the process. You might have a question you haven’t worked through, you might not be ready. I give you all the possibilities for why you’re stuck, for why you’re not moving forward. Not moving forward is not the end of the world when you’re a writer, whether you’re a budding writer or a writer who has already published.

It’s part of the process, and we don’t accept that part of the process because we’re so results-oriented in this culture. You have to keep producing. You have to be productive. You have to be always doing, doing, doing. And if you’re stuck, there must be something wrong with you. Oh my God, I have writer’s block. It’s a concept that’s accepted in our culture because people don’t understand writing anyway. They find it very mysterious, so, when you say you have writer’s block, people say “Oh, I am so sorry. Can I get you anything?”

BENMARK: Right. But there also has to be a point at which, a temporal point at which you say, “I’ve been here x number of hours and nothing is happening. I mean, how do you know if and when you need to give up, or is that not even part of the process?

RAPHAEL: Well, I don’t call it giving up. I think you just change your topic, you change what you’re doing, you back up, or you just do any number of things that take you away from the project. Instead of seeing it as a cliff wall that you cannot climb, just see it as a time out. I think that’s the most important thing. All of us are used to being told, “If you start something, you have to finish it. You have to keep working.” People will tell you, “Well, I get up at 8 and I write 7 hours a day,” and it’s an unreal vision of what it is to be a writer. Writers have good days and bad days and that’s just part of the reality. And so I wrote this book with that in mind. How to introduce people to the realities of writing, living the writing life, and constructing their time in a way that is useful and will not make them crazy. You know, everyone says “I’d like to write when I have time.” Well, the time is now.

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