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  • jrblackburnsmith

Writer's Block is a Myth!

Says the man who has spent the last week avoiding anything related to work on my latest project The Devil's Interval. A couple of weeks ago I finished a strong third draft of the novel and it's out to a few readers for feedback and insights. As harrowing an ordeal as that is (waiting for other writers to give feedback on my work) it leaves a void in my life at 4am every day, my preferred writing time. Many folks tell me I should fill that void by sleeping but why start now? If lack of sleep leads to dementia, I'm halfway there.

That leaves me a couple of choices, one of which is start a new project now and set it aside once I get the feedback I need. My computer is littered with partial drafts of novels, started in the midst of another project and lost because I can't find the inspiration for them when I am able to get back to them. Part of that is taking 8 years on Love: a novel of grief and despair. You try to pick up on a thread of writing you started ten years ago and see how hard it is. That doesn't mean I don't have a couple or three projects I've been ruminating on for a long time that will suddenly gain momentum and take over my life.

This time however, I decided to tackle a chore: agents and publishers want to see a synopsis of your project when you submit to them. It is the ultimate in reductive writing: take a 300-page novel and reduce it to 10 pages but don't lose anything of value and showcase your best writing. It's impossible and I hate it, thus the case of mythical writer's block. Imagine giving someone bone marrow and asking them to see the body it came from it living detail.

When I was in graduate school at Ohio State, I had a class with Professor Julian Markels in which every week we had to write a half page double spaced description of a bibliography. The first week was a two volume work and by week ten it was a fifteen-volume bibliography covering centuries of works. That half page wo writing required pages and pages of notes, distilled down to the 'essence' of the work. Every one of my assignments was returned covered in red ink, looking like a boxcar a group of teenagers tagged with red spray paint. In place of my words were the pithiest phrases and concepts doing the work I could not. Thirty-five plus years later, I realize while Professor Markels was an insanely great writer, he was also a bit of a charlatan. He assigned the same bibliographies each time he taught the class, so he wasn't coming up with those pithy comments in the week it took him to grade the assignment. That said, he still captured the essence of the volumes of works in a few beautiful sentences.

Unfortunately, writing a synopsis is nothing like that. It's more like deciding which one hundred thousand words of your 107,000 word manuscript you are doing to discard like yesterday's trash. I'm not bitter, I'm just drowning in despair. I love these words and it feels wrong to ignore so many of them.

What's next for The Devil's Interval? In addition to addressing issues raised by my readers, I need to cut ~15,000 words. Great.

The Devil's Interval is set in Reims, France during the German occupation. It is the story of Inspector Marc Guyere and his wife Marnie as their marriage crumbles amid the chaos of war.

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