One concept, two ways

*images via BookLikes

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing worse than an overused quote. But writer’s block comes a close second.

Whether you are a “new” writer or a veteran one, a running theme of blogs and author’s notes on is the difficulty of getting through a rut in the story. Sometimes that rut is terrible/horrible/unbearable, other times you need a little less time to get over it, and in the extreme cases, it can leave you feeling like absolute shit.

I “speak” flippantly, but as someone who has suffered from a mother-of-all-blocks for 2 years now, with only a few breaks in the horizon, I can tell you – it sucks, and I sympathize. I’ve been there: detailed edits that are left to gather dust, notes that get “accidentally” lost, staring at the screen, rewriting sentences again and again because you hate the word order so much – yes, I’ve done it all. Sometimes starting is the biggest hurdle and that’s fine. Sometimes, there’s a bigger problem to be dealt with.

I’m saying this because the two books I’m looking at today are two very different beasts, and target two different types of block.

“642 Things to Write About” by the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto was written, by its own admission, in 24 hours via mass emails. It is the book equivalent of an Internet prompts post, but bound in nice paper that won’t make your pen’s ink run all over the place (very important, if you are me.) I like my laptop, but sometimes pen-and-paper brainstorming/freewriting is what I need to get unstuck, and this book is very good for that. Even if it’s expensive for what it is.

“The Sound of Paper” by Julia Cameron, however, addresses a different kind of block, the one you have on the soul. Written over the course of 1 year, in New York and Taos, New Mexico, it’s a collection of short essays which end with exercises to help the inner artist regain confidence and manage the ebbs and flows of creativity. It’s very much an extension, though not a replacement, of “The Artist’s Way” (which I will review at a later date.) It’s what I turn to when I need some deep thinking to happen, and I need to address another aspect of ailing which a quick un-sticking exercise isn’t enough to fix.

I’m somewhere-in both these books (neither halfway nor even a 1/3, in some cases) but if a writer’s manual you’re looking for, you need to think very hard as to what block you’re trying to address. “The Sound of Paper” will definitely give you more bang for your buck in terms of content, and in the long run, I will argue that all writers need something from Julia Cameron in their library because she speaks the truth, and “deep” blocks is something everyone encounters at one point or another. It’s the more humble offering, the plain-Jane older sister, (or the DUFF, depending on how you take your fairy tales,) and the one I’m very fond of myself.

However, there is something that “642 Things to Write About” caters to, namely the artist’s yearning for pretty stationary and interesting topics to discuss. If you’re looking for a present this holiday season, either for you or for a writer friend, and you want to give them something other than a Paperchase journal (although, really, very few things beat Paperchase in my opinion,) this is the “pimped up” version. The Journal 2.1, if you will. A note of caution, however: some of these prompts are what you might call “mature” in nature, so if you don’t want to piss someone’s parents off, there is a “young writers” version of this available. Also, there is a “642 Places to Draw” and “642 Things to Draw” versions in circulation (mine is from Urban Outfitters, but I’ve seen them in Waterstones and on Amazon, so make your picks accordingly.)

I will continue to report on these as I finish them, but in terms of gifts for writers or writer’s aids, these two are excellent.


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