Archives for posts with tag: writer’s block

How to Cure a Writer’s Block
by Shahé Mankerian

for Aram Saroyan

To my students I say, “Go outside
at midnight and climb the tilted trellis

to the roof. Grip the waterspout.
Keep the finch’s nest and the sprout

of moss intact. Like Jesus, pretend
the ceramic shingles are your Sea

of Galilee. Find the chimney and rest
your back against soot of the bricks.

Fix your gaze on the glaze

of the black blanketed sky.
Tuck yourself in. The full moon

will ascend like a Chantilly cake.
Squint your eyes and take a bite.”

PAINTING: Across the Orange Moons by Alexander Calder (1967).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is an homage to a friend and a renowned minimalist poet, Aram Saroyan. For many years, it has been an eighth grade tradition to recite Saroyan’s minimal poems at the school I teach (and administer). During recitations, students love his compressed poems because of their rhythmic and melodically soothing qualities. Crickets—crickets—crickets— 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Poet Shahé Mankerian is the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School. He is on the board of International Armenian Literary Alliance (IALA). His debut poetry collection, History of Forgetfulness, will be published by Fly on the Wall Press in October 2021.


writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all” CHARLES BUKOWSKI

Illustration: “Bukowski” by skroowtape

ImageGeorge Plimpton — a founder of The Paris Review — writing in PEN America 4: Fact/Fiction explained how he overcame writer’s block:

Many years ago, I met John Steinbeck at a party in Sag Harbor, and told him that I had writer’s block. And he said something which I’ve always remembered, and which works. He said, “Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like.” And at the time I was enamored of Jean Seberg, the actress, and I had to write an article about taking Marianne Moore to a baseball game, and I started it off, “Dear Jean…,” and wrote this piece with some ease, I must say. And to my astonishment that’s the way it appeared in Harper’s Magazine. “Dear Jean…” Which surprised her, I think, and me, and very likely Marianne Moore.

Photo: Jean Seberg in a scene from Breathless (1960)


Draw a crazy picture, 
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb. 
Do a loony-goony dance 
‘Cross the kitchen floor, 
Put something silly in the world 
That ain’t been there before.

Illustration: Self-portrait by Shel Silverstein


I read Lying Awake by Mark Salzman shortly after reading a profile of the author by Lawrence Weschler (“The Novelist and the Nun”) in the Oct 2, 2000 issue of The New Yorker. In the article, Salzman reveals his multi-year battle with writer’s block that included several drafts his agent and publisher rejected and his difficulty working at home because his cat wanted to sit in his lap — making it hard to concentrate.

While he struggled to write and often had no idea where to take his story, he did have several brainstorms related to the cat. First, he fashioned a skirt from aluminum foil and wore it while he worked (the cat did not like to sit on the metal garment). One day, Salzman was wearing the tin foil skirt and nothing else (you know how it is when you work at home) and stood up to get something. He looked out the window and saw a man working on the telephone wires outside — the lineman shook his head in pity when he saw Salzman. It was time for another cat deterrent tactic.

Salzman took his laptop to his garage and worked in his car. His cat followed him and sat on the vehicle’s moonroof while Salzman attempted to complete his novel, which, in his words, he wrote with a cat’s a**hole staring down at him.

Somehow the author managed to complete Lying Awake, which went on to bestsellerdom and rave reviews. Here’s one from the Amazon Page that does a good job of summarizing the novel: “Using a very limited palette, Mark Salzman creates an austere masterpiece. The real miracle of Lying Awake is that it works perfectly on every level: on the realistic surface, it captures the petty squabbles and tiny bursts of radiance of life in a Los Angeles monastery; deeper down it probes the nature of spiritual illumination and the meaning and purpose of prayer in everyday life; and, at bottom, there lurks a profound meditation on the mystery of artistic inspiration.”

Note: I recently found a beautiful paperback edition of Lying Awake at one of my used books haunts, and will mail the novel to the first person (U.S. only because of postage rates) who leaves a comment on this post. This our third book giveaway.