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Beit Midrash Family and Society Journalism

Writer’s Block

Rabbi Dov Berl WeinTamuz 23 5780
8
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Human beings who regularly put pen to paper or, in the case of modern society, finger to keyboard or voice to dictating computer programs, are faced with the often-recurring problem of writer’s block. In my experience, writer’s block occurs in two different formats, both of which are equally annoying, frustrating, and challenging. One form of writer's block is that the writer simply has no pressing subject of interest that one wants to write about. Even in an overly complicated and ever-changing world there are what the media calls "slow news days".

This occasionally happens to those of us who, for various reasons, self-imposed or otherwise, feel bound to write articles or blogs on a regular basis. Sometimes, this obligation is a weekly one, and there are even those who undertake producing their wisdom and observations in writing on a daily basis. But no matter what the time schedule - daily, weekly, monthly or even annually - anyone who writes will sooner or later meet up with the dreaded enemy called writer’s block and simply feel that he or she has nothing of value to say at that particular time. This is especially true if one has written a great deal, for then it feels as though one has exhausted all of his or her wisdom on many subjects, especially when those subjects reappear in the course of human events, as they always do. The writer feels that there is nothing new that can be added to what has already been written. Hence, this form of writer’s block is extremely frustrating.

Another even more insidious form of writer’s block occurs when one has formulated in one's mind the topic that one wishes to write about, but because indolence, preoccupation or other distractions, the writer does not arrive at the computer with alacrity to dictate the article that has already formulated in his/her mind. There is, so to speak, a switch that must be turned on to allow the words and thoughts that are within the writer to start to flow and to be recorded on paper or computer screen. This is an exceedingly difficult form of writer’s block to overcome, since, invariably, the writer does not know where the switch is that must be turned on.

The writer then spends a great deal of effort trying to convince himself to actually go ahead and sit down in front of the computer and write or dictate that which has already been prepared and formulated, to a great extent, within the mind and thoughts of the writer. I find that this is especially true when one is writing a book or essay of great length. It is impossible to finish the task at one sitting, and great discipline is required to ensure that a certain amount of words are written on a daily basis, in order that somehow, at the end of a set period of time, the book or essay can be completed.

The great American historian of the American Civil War, Shelby Foote, wrote a magisterial three volume narrative of that titanic struggle. It contained well over a million words. But he remarked that he did it by setting for himself a goal of writing 500 to 600 words a day, and to do so every day until the project was complete. That, my friends, takes enormous discipline and mental and physical fortitude – take my word for it.

Since I have not overcome the first type of writer's block that I described above – having nothing really important or earth shattering to write about this week – I chose to write about the fact that I really had nothing to write about. That drove me directly into the obstacle of the second form of writer’s block, forcing myself to somehow express my frustration, which I clearly formulated in my mind and even in potential words, into an article about writer’s block. It took me three days to force myself to sit down and dictate this article, even though I was fully aware of the subject that I intended to write about. But, as you can now see and read, I was able to write an article about nothing of great importance, and to dictate it to my computer, so that all of you can identify and benefit from the ideas expressed herein.

Shabbat shalom

Berel Wein
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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