Pros: “786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination”!
Cons: Cute gimmick probably won’t stand up to lots of use; photos not different enough
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 7/19/2002
Jason Rekulak’s “The Writer’s Block” is a truly unusual and memorable “book”! It’s nearly a perfect cube – 3 inches by 3 inches by 3 inches, containing hundreds and hundreds of tiny little pages of ideas meant to get you writing when you’re feeling stuck. It includes three types of content:
Spark words pair a single word or phrase with a photograph. Many are meant to be ambiguous or controversial. Others are simply meant to be challenging, interesting, or unusual.
Writing topics provide a brief discussion of some issue in writing, usually relating it to various published and well-known writers. You’ll learn which of your favorite authors write under pseudonyms, and why. How Dorothy Parker chose her dog’s name. Which books author Scott Turow recommends for authors who’d like to write legal thrillers.
Writing challenges give you short assignments – exercises you can play with and try out.
How could you not get a lot of use out of this thing? The sheer volume of photos, words, exercises, and writing suggestions is astonishing! The number of pages alone makes this “little” book valuable to any writer. Beyond that, however, I’d call this book very good, but not amazing.
Spark words: I have to admit, these are pretty cool. It’s kind of like doing the dictionary exercise (open a dictionary, point to a word, and start free-writing), except with all the irrelevant words like “the” taken out. You’ll find things in here like fertility; infectious; flirting; magic; heist; pillow talk; and so on.
The photos didn’t wow me quite as much, however. Many of them had that excessively posed look to them that I’m not overly fond of (and I often find more candid shots particularly inspiring). Most of them, also, seemed to illustrate the most stereotypical or expected aspect of the spark word rather than leading us to new ideas. I couldn’t see the point of that – if they’re just going to show us the image that’s likely to come to mind anyway when we think of the word, then the photos are a waste of space. There are a few really good ones in here, though.
Writing topics: I particularly enjoyed these little discussions. They deliver short riffs on just about any writing topic imaginable: writing about your pets; “write what you know”; keeping dream journals; titles; mentally challenged narrators; revenge through writing; and so on. It covers all the expected topics that everyone covers, plus some more interesting and unusual ones. Many of these bits also have a sly sense of humor that will leave you grinning.
Writing challenges: As with the topics, you’ll find a mix of the standard exercises and some new and interesting ones. One of my favorites: “Trace the journey of a five dollar bill through the lives of five different owners. What was exchanged during the transactions? How much (or how little) did the transaction mean to each of the people involved?” Certainly you’ll be able to make use of and enjoy these.
The three different types of content are scattered nicely throughout, making it quite easy, if you’re looking specifically for a spark word or challenge, to find one no matter what page you open up to. Certainly you’ll be able to make use of this little block for a long time to come without running out of material–heck, you could use a page a day for two years and not run out of stuff!
Okay, so the “writer’s block” cube is a cute gimmick. However, it does cause a couple of problems of its own. When I first opened it I found the pages very stiff and difficult to open all the way. And once I’d played around with it for a while, the binding was already starting to separate from the pages in places.
Perhaps it would have been better to sell these as cards in a memo cube, that you could shuffle. That way there’d be no worry about a binding falling apart, and it would even be easy to sell later bunches of cards to supplement the stack.
All in all, a worthwhile purchase for any writer. How could you not enjoy having that many words, photos, exercises, and suggestions to play with? It’s like being a kid in a candy shop! Just go easy on your little cube’s binding, and try not to let the photos trap you into thinking about the spark words in expected ways.