Tactics for Handling Well-Wishers

“Do you know what the cure for writer’s block is? Just sit down and write the damn thing!

For every well-wisher in the world who has offered a version of this statement to a struggling writer, I have to say this on behalf of the community of the blocked, “No shit, Sherlock!”

We all know that there is one and only one “solution” to writer’s block: just write.  It’s kind of up there with big important facts like the earth is round, dogs fart, and Play-Doh doesn’t taste nearly as good as it smells.  And so it always makes me wonder why well-wishers don’t realize that it’s also obvious to everyfuckingone else–most especially, writers?  At this point in history, it’s just an existential redundancy that blocked writers, though they know very well the solution for blockage, cannot, for whatever set of reasons, force themselves to take the cure. (1)

As I have discovered in my long tenure as a writer with blockage, there’s nothing quite like sufficient money, free time, or the most well-intended complisults (2) of those around you to turn what ought to be a gushing well of creativity into a Prozac-resistant zone of nothingness. Mind you, not the kind of Zen nothingness that has become recently cool but, rather, the kind of sticky black hole that sucks up your entire afternoon because the rich, interior life of a hangnail you discovered while making the morning coffee becomes profoundly more interesting than, say, discovering the name of the main character in the TV series you have been meaning to write for the last 20 months.

To be fair, my sense is that well wishers genuinely believe that they want to care and help the lesser among them succeed. The problem is: they just don’t understand that they are, most likely, the very people who crafted the problematic psychology the writer is fighting against in the first place. So, the well-wishing, while often well intentioned, seems somewhat equivalent to telling Oedipus to just go “kiss and makeup” with his parents.

Short of acquiring new relatives and friends, then, what should a writer with blockage do when faced with this kind of perverse Vincent Peale-ism?

Tactic #1: Don’t respond emotionally. My data on this suggest that going red in the face and proffering to load sticks of dynamite into their sensitive anal tissues doesn’t really create enough of a distraction or a sufficient train wreck to derail the conversation. More importantly, this strategy can often backfire and lead to deeper levels of penetrating questioning about the depth, density, and angle of insertion of the blockage. Not a win-win situation for anyone unless you’re an emotional Liberace. Avoid this tactic this at all costs.

Tactic #2:  Don’t apologize. This is a particular favorite of Utah writers who are working in academia. To quote my grandma, it’s a “doozy” if actually used because, as my past experience again shows, this merely reifies a certain righteousness in the well-wishers that can, over lengthy periods of time, become large karmic obstacles they will need to remove later. Really, you’re doing them a favor by not doing this.

Tactic #3: Learn to deflect or re-direct. Try offering a counter-intuitive statement that returns the force of the well-wishing back to the well-wisher in terms he or she understands. (See the sample dialogue below.)

The Well-Wisher: “Gee, Julie, how’s your dissertation going?”

Julie: “Good. You know, mostly good. How did Natalie’s pregnancy test turn out? She’s a sophomore, right?”

Tactic #4:  Make up egregious lies. I’ve discovered that no one ever really knows or, actually, cares a whit about what you are writing except you. Mostly, the well-wishing often functions as a kind of bland social nicety delivered by people who ask you about your disability so they don’t have to remember anything important about you or, worse, as a ruse to load you with their recent successes. So, feel free to do some shameless self-promotion and invent wildly about the awesome new directions your work is taking. Use ISO-9001-certified words like “creativity,” “innovation,” and “guerrilla.” The worst it could do is create an unfounded reputation for your greatness in the local community that might help out in a pinch when one of your students catches you in the local grocery store dithering over spending your last $10 on the KY Intrigue or the Kotex Overnight Maxis with Wings.

Tactic #5:  Use guilt to wrangle a free dinner. To any well-wisher who asks, “How are you doing? I hear the project’s not going well.” Just answer, “You’re right. I’m not doing really well. I’ve been having some really dark thoughts lately, and I could really use a shoulder to cry on. Can I come over around 6 p.m. tonight? Remember, I can’t stand Riesling.”

I’ve deployed these tactics for close to a decade now with great success, but, to go all Carolyn Hax on you and point the finger back home, the best tactic is probably just realizing that you are allowing the well-wishers to bug you.  And, if you could stop that, your problem is solved.  If you figure out how to do that, however, I would appreciate a ‘cc on that memo.

(1) Of course, it would help if the cure were easier and, say, involved just a little red wine, a mask, and a safe word.

(2) A complisult, in case you don’t know, is an insult masquerading as a compliment and, most often, delivered with a concomitant smilefrown, the emotional signature of Utah housewives who, while tarrying about under the subtle effects of Valium, cannot muster sufficient energy to fully repress their hatred for you in a socially acceptable way and, therefore, end up producing a mutant hybrid of expression that has a Medusa-like effect on its viewer.

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