Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing as Placebo

In medicine, with new trials of medication in particular, there is an evil word that hides in the background, although sometimes it looms large on the horizon, while frightened researchers try to scurry backwards, their heels gouging at the earth to gain a grip. The evil is the placebo effect--the non-pharmacologically potent pill that half of the subjects (patients) take. The researchers pray that their medicines will be more powerful, more potent, more effective than the placebo pills, so they can show that the medicine makes a difference and should be channeled into the pharmacy pipelines where it will hit it big--and make a ton of money.

In other parts of the world, the placebo is not viewed as a nuisance, but as a sign of something positive. The placebo represents belief in action. It reflects expectancy, a sense that something--something good--is going to happen. That's why, when we stop and think about it, we see the power of the placebo. Patients who believe that they are taking a potent medication actually have a reduction in the symptoms that the "real" medicine is targeting. No drug side effects, but symptom reduction nonetheless.

In writing and other creative endeavors, we must learn to harness the power of the placebo. The power of our beliefs. What do you believe? Where do you want to go? Maybe we can take that journey together. Let's see where belief takes us, shall we?

Verbally yours....

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Cookies fresh from the oven. A cold glass of milk. Freshly baked bread. These are only words, but the images that they evoke also stimulate other senses as well. Can you smell the cookies? Can you hear the sound of the milk splashing into the glass as it is poured? Can you taste the chocolate chip morsel that is melting against your tongue?

Every day, words are used to evoke our emotions. Sound bytes and news advertisements draw us in with powerful words, words that sometimes frighten us, like  assault or attack or abuse, when those words could actually convey any of a wide range of behaviors. When we actually see the clip or watch the show or read the column, the overall impression that we get can feel pretty watered down in comparison with the build-up. On the other hand, the writer did his or her job. The words that were carefully selected drew us in, had us waiting for the big story.

The flip side, of course, are the cookies, the bread, the turkey roasting in the oven. Lazy summer days. The last day of school. The sense of an infinite summer. Words that take us back to childhood days. Words evoke memories. Memories provide us with a break from our daily lives. They serve as reminders of attitudes we may want to recapture. Relax more. Chill. Repose. Laugh. Play.

Freud said that words were originally magic. He was right. And, they still are.

Verbally  yours.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Writer's Block

For some writers and those who teach writing, writer's block is nothing more than a myth. Why? Because someone could write about any subject just to stimulate the writing process. So, if I am working on my second novel (which I am) and have trouble getting started, I could write about my difficulty getting started. Or I could write about the weather, or my mood, or my wish that the Pittsburgh Pirates might have a winning season sometime again during the remainder of my lifetime. None of those topics necessarily help my second book, but they keep my fingers on the keys.

Unfortunately, I do believe in writer's block. I don't see it as a myth. I don't see staring down the blank page as a noble feat (blank pages intimidate me, some days). Sure, writing is putting your behind in the chair every day, but, hey, there are word goals and page goals, and....

Yes, I have had writer's block so large and looming it was more like writer's town or writer's city. How frustrating is that? Plenty. But that is part of the process, too, and just because there is no typing going on it doesn't mean that I'm not problem solving in my head or sorting through a thorny structural or plot issue.

The moral appears to be, be patient.

Verbally yours....