Monday, October 18, 2010

Ships in Harbor

Mystery author Dennis Palumbo gave a memorable talk at Bouchercon last weekend. In addition to writing, he works as a psychotherapist. When he said that most of his clients were writers, I laughed. Considering the audience, I assumed it was a joke.

It wasn't.

His talk focused on writer's block, what it is, and why it happens. I'll summarize his points here in a sec, but after thinking about his message for a while, I've determined that much of what Dennis said about writer's block can be applied to all kinds of challenges in life.

He gave the writers in the room three credos:
1. "You are enough." --There is no lack in you.
2. "Work with what you're given." --All of us have a story, and it might be staring us in the face.
3. "Writing begets writing." --If blocked, write anyway. If you must, write about how much it sucks to be blocked.

He offered hope for writers, suggesting that blocks occur when we are growing. They mark a natural step in our evolution as developing writers. Inevitably, we feel better about ourselves and our skills after we've made it through a block. Nobody looks back and says, "Overcoming that problem made me worse at what I do." Instead we look back and know that we identified a hurdle, cleared it, and learned something from the experience. Blocks, he said, are good news.

On a related topic, Dennis suggested that procrastination is a protective device. Some part of us welcomes it. Otherwise we might confirm our worst fear: that the thing we want most won't work out for us in the end.

He delivered one line I absolutely loved:

"Ships in harbor are safe, but that's not
what ships were built to do."

I haven't stopped thinking about that since.


Dennis Palumbo's book, Writing From the Inside Out, addresses the ideas in his talk. His crime novel, Mirror Image, was released in August.


  1. Good to see you at B'con. Sorry I can't be there on Tuesday to hear your talk, but I'll get a report!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, fellas. Bill, break a leg at your gig. :)

  3. Anjali Kapoor-DavisOctober 19, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    Ok, I laughed too! ; )

  4. You're right, Rachel. Terrific line. Thanks for the post.