How to Ass-Kick Writer’s Terror (plus something about prairie chickens)

Once upon a time (an era that ended just yesterday), I thought writer’s block (for me) was as real as a vat full of squabbling, cosmic prairie chickens.

Of course, now that I’ve given digital birth to the Squabbling Cosmic Prairie Chicken, it is inevitable that it has burst into sudden existence on some (very, very) distant plane that is the physical actualization of our ephemeral internets. And thus, the existence of the Squabbling Cosmic Prairie Chicken proves that there is, after all, some validity to writer’s block. Even I, burbling font of crooked ideas, can come down with the writer’s block.

By the way–have you ever SEEN a prairie chicken? They’re actually pretty fantastical. (First image yanked from Wikipedia. The second wriggled through the fabric of space and placed itself there totally of its own volition).

prairie chicken

(I swear this entry isn’t about chickens.)

I misinterpreted writer’s block. (Again, this is my own personal writer’s block. Writer’s block comes in many sizes and flavors, all depending on the quilldriver.) I used to think of it as a lack of ideas, or a fizzling will/determination–and because these problems weren’t mine, I didn’t believe in writer’s block. If I have one idea, I have many; maybe it’s because my mind is tangential and ekphrastic, but art spawns art which spawns art. My neck is broken from the stew of ideas constantly pounding down on my poor skull. Also, have I mentioned my obsessive single-mindedness? It, too, is spawn: a wicked child born of the drunken, midnight frolicking of a mule, a glacier, and an angry swarm of yellow jackets. My writer’s block is not made of idea-bones and spineless grit. It’s got more to do with fear.

A re-naming, then, is in order. I’ll call my own personal writer’s block (or the one I briefly experienced yesterday, at least) Writer’s Terror.

At the beginning of March, I started a new novel. It has a full title, but for now we’ll just call it Magpie. Quick pitch?


I wrote two chapters, then had to set it aside because starting this summer, my book Skyglass is being serialized in Sparkler Monthly, which means hel-tons of writing and editing. But I had time yesterday, and a workshop I needed material for, so I opened up Magpie and prepared to write.

I sat. I distracted myself with tumblr. I ate a banana and peanut butter.

And then I began to doubt the story. Where did this nasty sludge of story-pretense come from? Why the hel had I ever thought I could fill a whole book with this piss about blue skyfire and wyrm/holes and twisted reincarnations of Norse Mythology (only, uh, glittery-er?)? I typed a single word: THREE. Because I was starting chapter three. But my leaden fingers refused to jab-out anything more. They were cowering on the keyboard because they knew and I knew continuing Magpie would be a waste of time.

But fearfully is no way to write a story. You have to be reckless and stupid and bombastic. I knew this, and yet I still couldn’t write.

Briefly, I considered another round of banana and peanut butter distraction, but instead, I forced myself to think about Magpie’s characters–the reasons I wanted to write the book in the first place. And once the characters and I spent a little bit of quality skull-time together, I realized that YES, I still had to tell the tale of my deported magic-wielder/prank-puller of slipstream gender, and that foul-tempered axe-wielder who really just wants to chop off everyone’s head. Plus that bit about a God who falls in love with a trickster mortal.

They’re a trio of mayhem and world-annihilation. How could I not want to write about them? So I gut-punched my fear, chose the beginning of chapter three (aka, the dénouement of the trickster’s celestial sexy-times) and started putting pixel-ink on the page.


    1. tumblr.
    2. Banana. Peanut butter. Eat. (If chocolate is available, skip the banana.)
    3. Remind yourself why the hel the story exists.
    4. If step 3 succeeds, put words on the page. Real. Made up. JUST PUT THEM THERE.
    5. Smother the fear in peanut butter, and eventually, the words will be sentences. Will be story.

Honestly? This is useless advise. But it worked for me, and if you have a process like mine, you might find it helpful. If you don’t, ignore all of it except the peanut butter. Peanut butter is sticky. It is the universal adherent. The solution to everything.


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