Lisa Lenard-Cook

The Lonely Writer’s Companion

“How Do You Deal with Writer’s Block?”

Welcome to the new improved Lonely Writer’s Companion! The format’s simple: You send in your questions, and each month I’ll select one to answer. Email your questions to me c/o (Be sure to put “Question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion” in the subject line.) You can also contact me through my website,

“Writers, by nature, should be introverts, people whose spirits are replenished when they’re alone.”

Question:Here’s a question as old as hieroglyphics. How do you deal with writer’s block?

The Lonely Writer responds:Let’s start with a few definitions, the first a textbook one, the second the Lonely Writer’s take on what’s really going on. According to the Holy Source of All Things (a.k.a. Wikipedia), writer’s block is “a condition…in which a writer loses the ability to create new work.”

Definitions like this suggest a symptom, which, once diagnosed, can then be cured. But writer’s block is no one-condition-fits-all syndrome. Some writers never begin writing. They talk about their idea(s) and what they’re going to write, often relating the entire story any time there’s a willing audience. But to sit down and actually write the damned thing? It just never seems to happen.

I’d argue that these writers don’t write because (a) the story they think they want to write is a verbal story not a written story; (b) deep down, they believe they can’t do it; and/or (c) they can’t get their heinie into a chair because they’d rather be dancing. All three of these point to one cause: These people are extroverts, whose spirits are replenished in interactions with other people. Writers, by nature, should be introverts, people whose spirits are replenished when they’re alone.

Another kind of blocked writer has written one well-received book, and is now under contract to write another. This writer got an advance, which he’s spent, and had a deadline, which has long come and gone. Perhaps like the writer above, he’s related the premise for the book he’s going to write at more than one cocktail party. But whenever he sits down to write, he finds himself playing endless hands of Free Cell, Facebooking old high school friends, or Googling tropical illnesses that he might be able to work into the book he’s not writing.

“The problem with praise, especially a lot of it, is that we then have to live up to it,”

I call this the Grady Tripp Syndrome, after the protagonist of Michael Chabon’s marvelous frolic, Wonder Boys. In Chabon’s book, Grady’s sunk so low, he considers passing off a promising student’s manuscript as his own long-overdue follow-up novel. The problem with praise, especially a lot of it, is that we then have to live up to it, and the problem with living up to it is that, in the end, we’re only human. We have highs, we have lows. We wow even our most severe critiques, and then we screw up, magnificently. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man who is praised will believe his follow-up to that praiseworthy activity will fall short. So why bother? Why not let fingers wag at his lack of follow-up rather than the less-worthy follow-up itself?

But I haven’t yet answered the question, have I? That’s because, in truth, I don’t think a tidy catch-all phrase like writer’s block is a syndrome. I think it’s an excuse. And, as my first stepfather used to say, “If you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.”

But if you do want to do something? You’ll find a way. Just ask all those young mothers who got up at 4 a.m. to work on their novels before their kids awoke. Ask all those guys working two jobs to pay the bills who scribbled a few pages whenever they were on break. Ask those of us who wrote their first novels each night after work, those who ended up teaching for thirty years until their pensions finally afforded the time and money to write the book of their dreams.

We all doubt our abilities. We all think we’ll be exposed for the imposters we know ourselves to be. We all fear ridicule, laughter, blackballing, expulsion. And yet, if you want to write, the Lonely Writer believes you will write. You won’t have a choice. Writing is what you do and who you are, and listening to those who are crying that they can’t will only keep you from that time alone at the desk, in the great pursuit of making stuff up.


Got a question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion? Email it to me c/o (Be sure to put “Question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion” in the subject line.) Your question could appear in a future column.


Find Your Story Writer Your Memoir
Find Your Story,
Write Your Memoir

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
and Lynn C. Miller
Buy This Book via

PEN-short-listed author Lisa Lenard-Cook’s most recent book is Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press), which she co-authored with Lynn C. Miller, with whom she co-founded of ABQ Writers Co-op (, creating community in New Mexico for writers everywhere. She’s an editor of the literary magazine bosque, on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, and the Board of Narrative Arts Center in Santa Fe. Website: