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.

7 comments:

  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!

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

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

    Ok, I laughed too! ; )

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

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