The blogger’s block

It has perhaps not escaped the notice of regular readers that my output on this blog has slowed down considerably these last two months or so. I am hoping it will pick up again after a while, and am, in the meantime, flattering my ego by picturing to myself whole armies of disappointed and disconsolate readers sighing stoically to themselves as yet another week passes without a new blog post.

Is there such a thing as a blogger’s block? If there is, I guess I’ve got it. It all started when someone asked me about Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a book I re-read last year, and I searched out the blog post I had writtenabout it. I read over that post, and thought to myself: “Oh my God – how utterly dreary!” I don’t mean the novel, of course: that’s a masterpiece. I mean the 2,000 word piece I dutifully wrote about it. Why did I do it? It’s not that I disagree with what I had written, but, rather, what I had written struck me as so utterly dull and unengaging: I really had nothing of any particular interest to say about the novel – nothing that any averagely perceptive reader could not easily have figured out for themselves. And frankly, it was tedious.

It is true that I have said often enough that I write this blog principally for myself, but, even so, I do make the effort to engage the reader: by making my writings public, I am effectively saying to the reader: “Despite all the many things online or off that you may like to spend your time reading, I am asking you to take a few minutes out to read this instead.” It is quite a presumptuous request to make, and the very least I could do to readers who accede to so unreasonable a request is to try not to bore them.

I think it was this experience of reading my old post that brought on my blogger’s block. When I started this blog, it was simply a case of “read a novel, write a post about it, move on to the next one”. But, after the shock of discovering how boring the resultant posts can turn out to be, I have now decided to ditch that: from now on, I decided, I was only going to write about books where I have some specific personal perspective to impart. I don’t mean scholarly insights: I do not have an academic background in literature, not having studied it formally since I left school, and I do not pretend to be in competition with accredited literary scholars. But, since each person is unique, each reader too must be unique too, and hence, I argued to myself, each reader must take in and process whatever they read in a unique manner. So if I could communicate my own unique taking-in and processing of what I read, that may be, at least, of some interest, if only for its uniqueness.

But re-reading my post on The Scarlet Letter, I found myself asking: “What if my unique perceptions aren’t particularly interesting?” Uniqueness in itself is not, after all, sufficient to engage the reader. So I decided there and then: if my thoughts on a novel are a bit … well, a bit boring, then it’s best not to write anything about it. This is why I wrote nothing about The Wings of the Dove and Madame Bovary, both of which I read in the latter part of last year: it’s not that I don’t think they are great masterpieces – they clearly are; and neither is it the case that I wasn’t affected by them. It’s just that my personal perspective on them didn’t strike me as particularly engaging.

And in any case, I plan to read fewer novels this year, and more poetry. It struck me recently that while I am reasonably well-read in the English novel, what I have read of English poetry is quite often no more than the Greatest Hits, as it were. I have, for instance, a fairly slim volume of the poems of Keats on my shelves. I have read the odes, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, that famous last sonnet, etc., but don’t claim to know them well (except “Ode to a Nightingale”, which I think I know by heart). I know I’ve read The Eve of St Agnes, and The Pot of Basil, but damned if I remember them. Works such as Hyperion, say, or Endymion, I haven’t read at all. In short, I can’t claim to know the works of Keats at all well. And we’re talking here of one of the towering figures of English literature.

So that’s it, I decided: in 2020, I shall read less fiction, and more poetry. And since this blog still claims to be mainly (though not wholly) a literary blog, I guess I should write about it as well. I don’t really know how to write about poetry, but I’m hoping I’ll learn with practice. For my first post of the year, I threw myself into the deep end, and tried to write something about Eliot’s The Four Quartets, but that turned out more a record of personal impressions than anything that could be mistaken for analysis. Maybe that’s the level I should keep it at. To start with, at least.

In the meantime, I would request readers please to bear with me for a while. I am hoping this block won’t last too long. And I am hoping also that, fairly shortly, I’ll be able to write about poetry without boring the reader.

(And, of course, to have occasional rants about things that annoy me: where would this blog be without a few good rants, after all?)

All the best for now, and see you soon!

14 responses to this post.

  1. Rants are fine – have them whenever you want (this is *your* space, after all!)

    As for poetry – the world needs us *all* to read more poetry and I aim to do so myself. I don’t know if I can review it as such but I’ll certainly share my reactions to it – and look forward to your reactions to the poetry *you* read! 😀


  2. Posted by Mark L. Levinson on January 21, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    Well, I liked the Scarlet Letter essay. It’s a book I had to read in high school, and in high school the principle was that books are there to be figured out. I very much appreciate support for the proposition that some mysterious stuff in the books is there not to be figured out but to be mysterious.


    • Yes, I often feel that great books are sometimes seen as crossword puzzles to be solved. This doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t attempt to analyse as far as one can, but any great book is greater than the sum of its analyses!


  3. Posted by MMagnus on January 21, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    Actually, I found the blog post about the blogger’s block quite interesting. I think Quentin Crisp said, “No one is boring who tells the truth about themselves.” As for your Scarlet Letter re-read (yours and mine, because I felt compelled to take a look myself), anyone who needs to come up with 2000 words to please a professor could make good use of it. It kind of begs to be graded.

    Undoubtedly, however, you find many other posts among your stash that make you wonder how you ever wrote anything so engaging. How grand those moments feel! Enjoy many more!


    • Ha! Thank you!
      I have no doubt that some students plagiarise from blogs for their assignments. I have no problem with that, personally – as long as I don’t get sued for the student getting poor marks! 🙂


  4. Posted by David Gouldstone on January 21, 2020 at 5:46 pm

    I, and I’m sure many other readers, look forward to your next posts (and I’m pretty sure we won’t find them boring).


  5. Posted by Martin Johnson on January 21, 2020 at 6:19 pm

    I remember with pleasure your astute analysis of Yeats’s Lapis Lazuli, a famously difficult poem. This was the first of your blogs I read, and I have read many since. I look forward to future poetry blogs!


    • Thank you!
      Yes, I did have a lot to say about “Lapis Lazuli”, didn’t I? I remember writing that, and imagining the ghost of my old English teacher in school (who was very exacting on these matters) looking over my shoulder disapprovingly!

      I suppose the only way to go about it is to dive right in. I have been reading quite a bit of Seamus Heaney recently, and I’m trying to put together a few words about it. I’ll try to finish it within the next few days,and put it up – even though my old English teacher still may not approve! (I still have a great respect and affection for her, after all these years!)


  6. Always interested in more posts about poetry hope the block eases as well


  7. Posted by Bruce Floyd on January 21, 2020 at 11:19 pm

    If you read your words on “The Scarlet Letter” and find them somehow “wrong,” you are, at the least, an honest man. You found out that most disturbing thing a writer can discover: that he has, in the end, written words with nothing to say. Your decision to trust yourself is a sound one. If you read something and think you have really said nothing new or insightful, then chances are you haven’t. You are old enough, have been writing long enough, are certainly bright enough to trust yourself. May I add, sir, that you possess the first requisite of a writer: you write for yourself (you let us, your readers, listen in–and we relish our eavesdropping ), and if you find you write what doesn’t please or edify yourself, then pack it up and try again. I look forward to your comments on poetry.


    • Thank you for that.
      This blog has been running for ten years now, and, unless i am to churn out the same thing over and over again, I do need to take another direction. A greater emphasis on poetry may be just what’s needed! One can but try… 🙂


  8. Keats, what a good idea, and you get those wonderful letters, too.

    I think part of the appeal of blogging as a form of criticism is that it is so revealing of the process of criticism. You show your work in a way that most professional critics do not. The intermediate steps, the misfires, the half-finished thoughts, they are all interesting in their way. How does reading really work for a given reader?

    Anyway, I think it is interesting.


    • Yes, thanks – I think that’s the kind of thing I’m hoping for. After all, no-one is going to come to my blog to obtain a better understanding of The Scarlet Letter when so much has been written about that book by renowned scholars; however, a description of how I personally react to the book – intermediate steps, the misfires, the half-finished thoughts, as you put it – may at least be of some interest.


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