Stop thinking about writer’s block; start thinking about Michigan J. Frog.

Posted on April 6, 2013

You know who Michigan J. Frog is, right? You do, even if you don’t know it. He’s the frog in the immortal Warner Brothers cartoon who, when he’s alone with the guy who found him, jumps up and starts singing, “Hello, mah baby, hello, mah honey, hello, mah ragtime gaaaaaal –” But whenever the guy tries to show the frog off to someone, Michigan J. Frog just sits there, motionless, and goes, “BRRRRRAAAAAP.” Eventually, of course, this drives his finder mad.


Now, we’re not supposed to think Michigan J. Frog is being malicious. There’s no evidence in the cartoon that the frog cares what people think of the man who found him; I’m not sure he even really notices that guy. Sometimes Michigan J. Frog wants to do a little ragtime number with his top hat and cane. Sometimes he doesn’t. It’s as simple as that.


Today was one of the days where, as a writer, I was Michigan J. Frog (observed.) I got up early, applied butt to chair, opened my file and — after many hours — had managed to produce about 250 words worth keeping. So I took a break, ran some errands and tried again. Still, nothing. Remember the part in the cartoon where the guy picks up Michigan J. Frog and tries to make his little legs kick in a dance? Yeah. I had that kind of day.


However, I do not have “writer’s block.”


As Dan Wells (author of PARTIALS and all-around good egg) says, “Writing is the only profession where we can claim we can’t do our job because we’re ‘blocked.’ Plumbers never say, ‘Oh, I have plumbers’ block! I can’t work on your sink!'” I completely agree. Writer’s block is an illusion our profession has created, and an entirely self-defeating one. It takes a temporary problem (“had an off day”) and turns it into something epic, something mysterious, something uncontrollable — and, most dangerously, something that lasts and lasts. People often ask how to deal with writer’s block; I always say that you deal with it by not believing in it. If you’re stuck right now, you have a problem with your story, or you’re writing the wrong story, or something else in your life is messing with your head. (In my case, I suspect it was the last one; I knew my accountant and I would be meeting to do my taxes this evening, and that bit of tension and distraction is probably what kept me from completely sinking into the world of the SPELLCASTER prequel novella I’m working on right now.)


So today, I’m not thinking of myself as having some mysterious, unsolvable burden — writer’s block — that’s keeping me back from being productive. I’m thinking of myself as Michigan J. Frog (observed.) No song. No dance. Too many worries were watching me. But tomorrow I’m going to be back at my keyboard, and I bet this time I’ll need my top hat and cane.


(See how I sneaked that announcement about the novella in there? More details to come soon!)