Many blocked writers have told me that they can only write when there is a gun to their head. The gun is typically a deadline that generates abject fear and unspeakable dread.
I find it interesting that word ‘deadline’ has origins that were intimately tied to guns. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us:
“deadline “time limit,” 1920, Amer.Eng. newspaper jargon, from dead + line. Perhaps influenced by earlier use (1864) to mean the “do-not-cross” line in Civil War prisons…the prison guard stationed around the top of said stockade(was instructed) to fire upon and kill any of the prisoners aforesaid who might touch, fall upon, pass over or under [or] across the said “dead line”
The image of having the gun pointed ‘at the head’ emphasizes the brain pain that blocked writers endure, and hints at a yearning for the sweet relief that death would bring by removing the problem.
With punks, a gun at the head makes them do something they don’t want to do, like rat out a drug kingpin or confess to a murder. With writers, it trickier. A gun at the head makes them do something they want to do – write. Why on earth does it work this way? Why is such a cruel torture required to produce the written word?
And why did I have to call my book, “The Blocked Writers Book of the Dead?” Certainly a kindler, gentler title could have been found. But the psychological experience of being stalled, stuck, blocked, dried up, stopped dead, anxious, stressed and hopeless is simply part of the territory with these problems, and these feelings have to be dealt with for things to change.
If you have a “Dirty Harry” deadline pressure that can scare you into writing (like you have to write to eat) there is no shame in using it. If you have none, you may be able to create one. Often some form of unwanted public shame or humiliation works well as the gun at the head. It’d be nice, however, to not need this kind of terror in order to produce, and the practice of regular writing is the path to building a safer, saner relationship with your writing.
Who knows, maybe you can find another way that doesn’t involve Clint Eastwood.