CRAFT OF LITERARY 2.1: Featuring T.K. Lee – “Overcoming Writer’s Block: Boxing the Block”

I no longer believe in Writer’s Block.

Here’s what I did. I took that big old block, that mean, splintered Writer’s Block, and I carved out the inside of it, added a hinge and a handle, and called it a Writer’s Box.

And in this Box I put several reminders, knowing full well I’d be revisiting my work, as I like to say, rather than revising.

First, I had to think long and hard—it wasn’t easy, either—about what makes me unique as a writer. What is that special quality that others read in my work and say, “Oh, that is so T.K Lee?”

For starters, I write from a very grounded idea of place, of my southernness, of the mystique and myth, of all those delicious agrarian archetypes I culled from memory. They are the stubby roots running through my work. So, naturally, this went in the box, at the bottom of it. Let’s call it Identity.

Second, into the box, went my obsession with Environment. I stress over how things look in my work. Did I describe the painting just so under that particular dim light that hasn’t been fixed above the fireplace, or did I mention how the doorknob was a plastic diamond shape and loose and it didn’t lock so people might walk in on you in the bathroom, or have I mentioned the heat, how it’s exhausting and yet necessary?

Lastly (but there’s no limit to what can fit in the box), I put my love of Metaphor as it allows duality for a writer. There can always be “something else” to discover when we allow for the metaphorical.

And it works. The box will remind you, the writer, that you are never stuck in a work you’re creating. You’re the Creator. You can’t be stuck.

I used this most recently while working on my current script A Far Corner (in progress, a deadline looming, or more accurately, a “dreadline”) and I was happily writing away when I hit a wall. I took a deep breath, grabbed another pot of coffee (I mean, cup of coffee) and sat back down at the computer.

Here I had two characters, SJ and Votis, in an awkward moment of having just kissed, and there I was, wondering, well, what the hell do they do now? The Big Moment has happened…

Then, I looked in my Writer’s Box. I pulled out Environment, made myself “look” around the “bedroom.” The play takes place in Votis’ memory, of a Christmas, and naturally, the room would be decorated. Once I focused on that, on the Environment, suddenly SJ started talking again, mentioning the smell of a burning candle, and suddenly, she and Votis were having the most deliciously awkward conversation about everything else from candles to curtains to bedspreads to dinner…except the kiss that shouldn’t have happened. Ten pages later, I’d written not one but two solid scenes.

The trick to overcoming “writer’s block,” is never in the writing itself, but in the writer. You have to know what drives you to put pen to paper, to know what goes in your Box. Go try it.

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ABOUT T.K.: T.K. Lee is an award-winning member of the Dramatists Guild of America and the Society for Stage Directors and Choreographers, among others. A Pushcart-nominated writer of short fiction, and of award-winning poetry, he is currently a Visiting Professor in Playwriting in the MFA program at the Mississippi University for Women. You may learn more about him at www.cleverkris.com or by following him at www.facebook.com/tkleewriting.

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Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.

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