Columns > Published on May 12th, 2023

Writer’s Block And The New Writer: What My 11-Year-Old Daughter Learned At Authorcon 2

Writing, like any other skill or talent, can be a family affair: The Bronte sisters; David & Amy Sedaris; hell, the majority of Stephen King’s family (his wife Tabitha, his sons Owen and Joe).  

I write about slashers and people being transformed into carnivorous lakes. My daughter, about to turn 12 and referred to as The Bug in all public forums, seems to be following in my footsteps—she’s in the middle of writing about attacking zombie pickles and a variation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  

But: she’s stuck. She doesn’t know where to take the story next. Being the kind and considerate father I am, I take her to Authorcon 2 so she can, in her words, “ask [my] writer friends” about how to solve writer’s block.  

This is happening for two reasons: one, most clearly, it’s been four years since I attended any horror convention. I missed seeing my folks.  

Two...I’m a bit agnostic on the whole writer’s block thing. It’s considered 101-level discourse, and writer’s block either exists or it’s entirely bogus depending on who you’re talking to. Regardless, it’s never happened to me (he says, knocking on wood), but it’s stressing my kid out. What’s a parent to do?  

Authorcon 2, a spin-off of the Scares That Care conventions, showcases writers and a few artists. Their tables spill out of the ballroom of the DoubleTree Hotel in Williamsburg, Virginia, and into the main concourse. It’s well ventilated but hot, and free ice water is placed strategically. 

The Bug and I down cup after cup as we prowl the aisles—her looking for free stickers and getting over an initial bout of shyness, me looking for folks I know. She buys a witch’s cauldron mug for her morning chocolate milk, and, later, a piece from artist Lynne Hansen.        

"The fact that you have writer’s block...means that you’re at the point with your writing where you want it to be the best it can be, and so putting out something that just kind of works is not good enough for you.”

When she grows comfortable with the crowd and what she wants to do, The Bug talks to Adam Cesare, author of the YA slashers Clown In The Cornfield and Clown In the Cornfield II: Friendo Lives, first.  

He listens to her question—“How do you deal with writer’s block?”—and considers it seriously while wearing a Killer Klowns From Outer Space tee.  

“I don’t necessarily believe in writer’s block,” Cesare says finally. “I believe that sometimes I have a tougher time getting myself to do work. So what I do is I just...write, and it doesn’t matter if it’s good or not....I just write, and something happens between my brain and my hands where I’m getting in the groove...and, before you know it, I’m writing the good stuff.”

Jonathan Janz, author of The Sorrows and Children In the Dark as well as being an English/writing teacher, has a similar take. 

“Remember that what you write doesn’t have to be good,” Janz says. “It can be terrible, it can be awful, it can be garbage....So that’s what I would tell you to do: relax that inner critic....Put stuff down on paper or computer, and then once you have, if you’ve done something good, that’s good, and if you’ve done something bad, you’ve still grown just by writing a little bit.”

Some folks go in a different direction—literally. Laurel Hightower, author of Crossroads, Below, and Every Woman Knows This, leaves her keyboard.  

“It sounds very simplistic,” Hightower says, “but the best way that I’ve found to deal with [writer’s block] is to go for a walk...Whatever I feel stuck on, even if I’m not sure what I’m stuck on, as I’m walking and there’s nothing else going on in my head, it usually starts to come forth.”

Meanwhile, Rio Youers (Lola on Fire, The Forgotten Girl) and Tim Lebbon (The Silence, Eden), split the difference between the two camps. 

“Well, the fact that you have writer’s block,” Youers begins, “means that you’re at the point with your writing where you want it to be the best it can be, and so putting out something that just kind of works is not good enough for you.” 

“There are two ways of [handling writer’s block],” he continues. “You can take a little break from the project for a little while—maybe write something else, maybe play some video games, draw a picture, something like that. Or, you can just write anything, and it’s definitely not the final product, but just write something, get the ideas going, put it out on the page. Usually that jogs something loose.”

Lebbon chimes in, “If I’m on a project and I have few days where I can’t work on a project, it’s my mind giving me time to think about it a bit more....If you’ve got writer’s block writing a novel, for instance, go and write a short story, or write a little thing that could be an audio script.  Something just a little bit different. Take yourself away from the problem.”

We have to go, but The Bug pauses to buy a copy of Youer’s comic A Refrigerator Full of Heads, something that Youers checks with me first (I tell him The Bug watched Day of the Dead the week before, so it’s fine). 

All the writers do what new writers need—talking to them without patronizing them. Even the writers we don’t interview take The Bug and her stalled idea about zombie pickles (Lebbon muses about showing it to Paul Tremblay) seriously. This isn’t a kid just fucking around—maybe it eventually will be, but, for the moment, she’s serious, so the story’s serious.  

More, these established writers look at a new writer as an equal—something Lovecraft did for Robert Bloch, and Bloch did for Jack Ketchum, and Ketchum did for others (including me). In that sense, they act as much like a literary family as actual literary families: they treat the work as the work.

As we’re driving home, The Bug muses on what to do next for her stories. But, she says, we have to come back next year.  

Authorcon Website   

About the author

Paul Michael Anderson is the author of the collections BONES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN and EVERYTHING WILL BE ALL RIGHT IN THE END, as well as the novellas STANDALONE and HOW WE BROKE (with Bracken MacLeod). He currently lives in Virginia.

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