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Getting it to Flow: Thoughts on Writer's Block
Anna Grossnickle Hines
Published in Penn&Ink, Newsletter of Eastern Pennsylvania SCBWI, Spring 1999


     Our winter in Pennsylvania has seemed a little schizophrenic this year. It goes from below 20 degrees up into the 60s in just a few hours, and then back the other way.  The creeks and rivers don't know whether to freeze or flow.  At one point we had a couple inches of water flowing over the ice on our creek.  Later there was a five mile ice jam on the Delaware River. The flood danger was alleviated when a small channel opened up through the ice, letting the water flow and not back up.

     It reminded me of another sort of jam. Writer's block. I used to swear I never had that problem. If one project was giving me a little trouble I'd just switch to another for a bit. I always have enough things in  the works that something will move.  And if I can't write, I can draw.  I don't often have to resort to housework.

      But I have a story, a middle grade book, that I'd already written several times.  I had some new ideas for revising it and was sure I could get it soon as I could fit it into my schedule.  I'd take the manuscript and notes out and look them over, getting ready to start...tomorrow.  But tomorrow, some other project would distract me and I'd put it off again... and  again... and again.

     Each failed attempt added a few more chunks of ice to the dam, until finally, I had to admit I was blocked.  Me, the person who never gets writer's block.

     Was it just that I really wasn't interested in rewriting that story? Should I forget it, put it in the file of dead and dying manuscripts?  Something in me said no, but it also said if I was ever going to rewrite the story I needed to start now, today... not next week... not tomorrow... or that block would freeze solid and be even harder to move.  Like the water that needed to flow, I needed to find a way, over the top, around the edges, or maybe push ahead to open a tiny channel through the middle.  I sat down and started writing, brainstorming, freewheeling, putting down whatever came into my head about the characters, the relationships, the events.  I didn't worry about the shape it was taking or the path it was cutting.  I just wanted to keep the ideas flowing.  I wrote that way for several days, pages and pages of "stuff" until finally, like the creek that's rushing along as I write this,  the whole story started moving for me again.

     Of course, then I had to set it aside and work on a big illustration deadline, and do some promotion for the book that came out in October, and then there were the holidays...   I'll get back to that story though.  It might be a little sluggish at first, but I'll go with whatever movement I can get until it's flowing freely again.  And the next time the subject of writer's block comes up, I won't be so cocky.  It can happen to me.

     May your spring rivers be flowing with eloquence, humor and wisdom.

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