Good Prose Month: Teresa Carpenter Dispels Writer’s Block

Editor's Note: In conjunction with his publication of his new book, "Good Prose," Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author Tracy Kidder and editor Richard Todd will host “Good Prose Month” on, with the goal of bringing together the strongest voices in nonfiction to share insight into the writing and editing process with the next generation of authors. Every day during the month of January, visit for a new Good Prose tip, lesson, or story from bestselling authors, award-winning journalists, acclaimed editors, and favorite storytellers. The conversation will continue on Twitter with a weekly #GoodProse chat about the craft of writing, hosted by selected authors from a range of nonfiction genres.

Teresa Carpenter is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestseller Missing Beauty. She is a former senior editor of The Village Voice, where her feature articles on crime and the law won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981. She lives in New York City’s Greenwich Village with her husband, writer Steven Levy, and their son.

The best way to avoid writer’s block, I’ve discovered, is to simply deny that it exists. It has no medical diagnostic code that I know of. Many things masquerade as block. If you can’t sit still in your chair, you’re bored, not blocked. If you are running a temperature of 103, you’re sick, not blocked. If you are laboring in the shadow of a previous best seller and know the critics will say your powers are waning, rip out a bodice ripper, take the hit, and then go back to the book you wanted to write. It will seem brilliant.

No doubt about it; writing is hard. Some days it's harder to write than it is on others. In the memorable words of Henry Miller, “When you can’t create, you can work."

Some years ago, my husband walked into my office and upon seeing me drooping hangdog-like over my keyboard barked, “Keep your fingers moving!!!" Best advice I’ve ever received, short of Henry Miller’s. I laughed, disbelieving, but it worked. At first the aimless typing just produced nonsense, but then came words and sentences that made sense. I managed to get down ideas I hadn’t been able to nail on the first go-round. Probably because I had had a good laugh and the laughter dispelled that awful, serious self-consciousness that causes us to freeze at the keyboard.

Freezing at the keyboard: It's not the same as writer’s block, because, as we all know, writer’s block doesn’t exist.