Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How would you describe writer's block? (12/15/10)

Featured writer: Nancy Nelson-Wallace

Contributors this month:
Maggie Manning
Arlene L. Mandell
Becky Povich
Catherine Crawford
Claudia Larson
Don Edgers
Marilyn Petty
Sara Etgen-Baker
Susan Bono


by Nancy Nelson-Wallace

W - Withering criticism of my every word.
R - Regret for the paths not taken.
I - Illusions.
T - Time keeper saying it is too late to do it.
E - Envy of anyone who is published.
R - Resistance to change.
S - Sarcasm about my written efforts.

B - Bitterness about the way my life has written itself.
L - Levee that stops the flow of new ideas.
O - Overage of expectations, possessions, ideas.
C - Comparison to anyone with any success.
K - Killjoy defeatism.

Nancy Liela Nelson-Wallace lives,writes, and puzzles on California's North Coast.

What does writer’s block look like?

  by Maggie Manning

Hmm. Funny you should ask. I was just surfing the net for Christmas presents…I mean, thinking about this. Oh, wait. Someone's at the door. Be back in a minute!

OK. So where were we? Right; writer's block. Well, it happens when you can't think of anything to say, or perhaps can't think of anything of substance to say. We who claim to be writers are often too busy, too lazy, or too stressed to do more than talk about writing. Or, we write short, superficial pieces that do no more than take up time and space. At least I do.

Sometimes we stare blankly at our paper or computer screen; other times we get on with the business of daily life and ignore that voice in the back our heads whining to be let out. Sometimes we just give up and have a stiff drink. At least that's what I do.

However, for me, writer's block rarely strikes, unless there's a deadline or the project is large enough to be daunting. If I start typing or writing, something, no matter how lousy, starts to take form. Hmm again. I think should just stop now…perhaps sometimes writer's block exists for a good reason!

Maggie Manning procrastinates with the best of ‘em from her snowy home in Geneseo, New York.

Defeating ENELRA

  by Arlene L. Mandell

My evil twin ENELRA-that's ARLENE spelled backwards-reads over my shoulder and pronounces most everything I write utter PARC-you can spell that backwards too. Her sarcastic comments create many empty files labeled "DOC.2" or "Split Ends." If she were a hairdresser, she'd shave my head. Sometimes I trap her in the wastebasket and toss her in the recycling bin.

Fortunately there is the sacred circle of the Scribe Tribe - six wise women who gently trim those split ends and split infinitives, suggest a few golden highlights and send me home to spray a glossy finish on my work. When I pull into the garage, ENELRA is waiting, her snaggle-toothed grin gleaming in my headlights. If I'm quick, I can lock the door and leave her in the gloom. But she's always waiting for the chance to creep back inside.

Arlene L. Mandell has recently discovered the joys of the crock pot, enabling her to write without interruption for hours.

Part of the Plan

  by Becky Povich

Writer's Block makes me crazy. Writer's Block is an evil force that keeps the words locked up in my mind.

I imagine myself typing all the beautiful words onto my laptop, in rapid speed with no mistakes, finishing my memoir in record time. But, no…Evil Writer Block won't allow that and only laughs menacingly at me.

That's okay. I'll play his little game… For now. I'll let him think he's preventing me from writing, but I'll have the last laugh. You see…I'm on a Christmas hiatus and hadn't planned on writing again until after the first of the year, anyway. So, take that, you nasty Block-Head, you! Bwahahahah!

Becky Povich is currently buried under mounds of paper: Junk mail, bills, notes to self, printed notices of contests & calls for submissions, coupons, calendars, planners for 2011…PLUS Christmas cards & wrapping paper! Happy Holidays & a Prosperous New Year to you all! You can contact Becky at

Lift -off

  by Catherine Crawford

My writer's block began long before I wrote anything. It started in a dance studio with bad heating and a radiator that clanked all one fall. I was eight, a student in Miss Hert's ballet class. A stocky child with meaty legs, I had no waist. But I sure loved to dance.

Each Saturday morning, I pulled on my leotard and took my place with other girls at the barre. Miss Hert's pianist banged out a tune. I whirled across the floor pretending I was a swan. Sometimes, a few people stopped to watch. One morning, Miss Hert stood me at the head of the class beside a tall girl with bird-like legs. She explained in detail to visiting mothers why a child with my body type wasn't what she wanted in a student dancer. I had no promise as a ballerina, she declared. My body was wrong. That was the day I learned I would never be a swan.

Writer's block is not a state of mind for me. It's ragged emotion in the basement of my heart where a radiator clanks on cold mornings, and an out-of tune piano plays in the background. Sometimes, when I put pen to paper and wait to soar, nothing happens. I switch to the computer. But my wings hang at my sides. You're not good enough; you can't dance with words; you'll never be a swan, a voice in my head hisses out. And then comes the miracle—if I don't give up—a rush into the air, a steady pulse as my words gain momentum and lift me off the ground.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington.


  by Claudia Larson

You'd think that writer's block would be an immense wood obelisk sitting squarely in front of mind's eye. Ever the contrarian, my writer's block has a different idea. It appears comfy, this wool batting, surrounding me in all its soft grayness. It effectively blocks light, harsh reality, smothers road noise and creativity. There's enough room to move around. "Move around" isn't accurate. There's enough room, barely, to turn around, if I'm lucky. That's good though, because it doesn't waste much energy or use up what little air there is in this soft gray wool pod. I can sit in the center of it and breathe shallowly for as long as I wish.

Oddly enough, the second I start noticing its light blocking, noise smothering qualities, this padded room becomes less a word blocking, creativity sucking entity and more an entry point to whatever I'm feeling in the moment. Fingers uncurl out of mitteny wooliness and become recipients of whatever images emerge from the still, dark well underneath this protective cocoon. Words begin to appear; one, two and then in a string of sentences. I choose not to question this mystery and simply let creativity burble to the surface of these soft gray walls.

Claudia Walen Larson may solve the mystery of her writer’s block dual duty protective qualities, but not now. In the meantime, she lives in Sebastopol, CA.

My Muse is on Vacation so I’m Gettin’ Nowhere Fast

  by Don Edgers

One of my definitions for describing writer's block is aptly described by Gustave Flaubert when he was in the process of writing his masterpiece Madame Bovary. "I'm like a man playing a piano with leaden balls attached to his fingers."

Most of my writing is of historical nature, and I have to admit that unless I venture into the realms of fiction or poetry, I seldom if ever experience writer's block. But I think writers in these genres probably suffer angst (mental fatigue) when a pen, pencil or fingers poised over a keyboard wait upon a thought to prime their mental wellsprings - - - and nothing happens! Like slick tires on an icy road, the thoughtless writer spins his/her (mental) tires.

I was going to write a longer treatise on the subject: however, my brain crashed and it refuses to reboot.

Don usually spins his mental and physical wheels in Port Orchard, WA.
His writings that haven’t been blocked can be found at

Who, me?

  by Marilyn Petty

Writer's block is when you are unable to write. That is, you are unable to write because you don't write. All the pundits who write about how to write will tell you to remedy your little blockage by writing. In fact, one or two writers I have read brush off writer's block by saying there is no such thing. Either you write or you do not. The choice is yours — and mine, too, unfortunately. I hate it when I can't be the victim of anxiety and doubt; when I know They are right and the responsibility is mine. So, even if I still indulge in self pity and suffer writer's block, I shall take their advice and write.

Marilyn Petty is taking responsibility in Santa Rosa, CA.

How Would You Describe Writer’s Block?

  by Sara Etgen-Baker

This poem seems quite simple by its example;
Writer's block is devastating and is something with which all writers much grapple.

The day-to-day work of writing is sometimes punishing;
Despite the writer's bittersweet reward—publishing.

Bittersweet for with writing there is no guarantee of success;
Will my manuscript be published? is anyone's guess.

So, sometimes this vulnerability elicits fear;
Procrastination takes hold and suddenly my writing becomes unclear.

Wadded up papers and outlines are strewn across the floor;
My creativity I wish I could restore.

Neither a story nor manuscript can I conjecture;
My apprehension thwarts my ability; in marches fear and gone are any delusions of grandeur.

My mind is frozen like the Arctic tundra--unfruitful, barren, and fallow;
In fact, my writing becomes quite shallow.

A Tsunami moves my inspiration beyond my reach;
Then my self-confidence lays shattered on the beach.

The hours become laborious, long, and unproductive;
During these times, I seem almost self-destructive.

Then comes the sleepless nights;
I wonder with fright, "Should I give my writing career its last rites?"

Desperate, I awake early only to find that my muse is gone;
Other days, she yawns and sleeps way past dawn.

Despondent, I don't know where to begin;
I worry, "What if I am a has-been?"

Sometimes my inner critic is overbearing;
Many times I've been confused by this personal red herring.

Then I ponder—-perhaps it is fear of success
That is the cause of my distress?

Like a novice, my imagination continues its fledgling;
The words and ideas are lagging despite my fussing and fretting.

By this time, fatigue has overtaken me, and I seem almost spiritless;
My mind is numb and seemingly listless.

I work on perspective and take great solace in knowing;
The seeds I faithfully sow are constantly growing.

I remember that the soil of inspiration is only temporarily unfertile;
All of my efforts are not futile.

My ideas are germinating in the soil;
Soon I will harvest them albeit with great toil.

Sara Etgen-Baker is a freelance writer, technical writer, editor, and retired teacher who currently lives in Allen, Texas, and can be contacted at

Let's See

  by Susan Bono

"But you write all the time," I usually hear whenever I'm foolish enough to admit to writer's block. True, I have bookshelves of journals, file cabinets bulging with papers, a computer and website teeming with all kinds of writing. But the high, impenetrable wall between me and writing that truly excites me is always there. Hang enough pictures on a blank wall and pretty soon all you see are the pictures. But even if no one pays the wall any mind, it's still there.

What would it be like to actually see that wall again, the one I've spent so much time plastering over? Lately I've been thinking about tearing the pictures down. Perhaps I'd be less horrified by the blank space than I fear. Maybe the cover up creates its own distress, like the way cemeteries use Astro turf to camouflage open graves. Maybe if I just let that wall be what it is, it would start looking more like protection than a prison. Maybe I'd find a crack or a door that had been previously hidden. Maybe there'd be an arrow, its paint nearly faded, still pointing "This Way."

Susan Bono is up for some redecorating in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono


C. Larson, B. Povich, M. Petty, C. Crawford, T. Sanders

Columnists Emeriti: Christine Falcone, David S. Johnson, Betty Rodgers, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Betty Winslow

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer living in Petaluma, CA. She has published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at She conducts creative writing classes in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and co-hosts the quarterly Speakeasy Literary Saloon at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. She's on the boards of Petaluma Readers Theatre and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She is still writing a postcard a day. Her most recent publishing credits include Petaluma Readers Theatre, KRCB’s Mouthful, Milk and Ink, and Passager Magazine.

Marilyn Petty is a dyed-in-the wool Midwesterner, a long-ago émigré to California and a fortunate resident of Sonoma County, CA. She taught weaving through the SRJC for 8 years and was the reporter, essayist, editor and publisher of the Redwood Empire Handweavers and Spinners Guild for 10 years. When not tangling with yarns, she is unknotting words, writing poetry and personal essays. She putters in the garden when words fail her.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email:

Claudia Larson, in her childhood, wrote long letters to her best-friend cousin and enthralled herself by writing a heart-rending story of two orphans. She writes fewer letters nowadays and prefers writing poetry and memoirs of her North Dakotan farm girl days. She is not yet an orphan, has six siblings and lives in Sebastopol, CA.

Becky Povich lives near St. Louis, Missouri. Although not young in "people years," she's only been writing for ten of those. Getting her first book completed, a memoir, is her current short-term goal. She can be reached at, or visit her blog at

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is completing a novel. A former award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Theresa welcomes email and would love to hear from you. Contact her at:

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