Clearing the blockage.

Writer’s block – ten tons of fun, or twelve?

I don’t know what to write about, and so I find myself doing all manner of things that surround but don’t really approach the actual work. Like: setting up a Twitter account. Like: reading Stephen King’s excellent On Writing (man, I wish I enjoyed the suspense and horror genres. He is such a good writer. Holy crow). (But I digress! Even within a discussion of digressions, I digress). Like: commenting at length at Balloon Juice and/or Ta-Nehisi Coates. Like: thinking (and thinking) about why it is that I am blocked. About if I even want to de-block.

None of these things are necessarily bad, unto themselves, and some even involve writing. But none of it is my actual work.

When I was complaining about my fate over at TNC last week, many lovely people chimed in with words of good cheer and/or helpful advice (they sent me to read On Writing, for instance). My buddy (and occasional In My Head commenter!) CitizenE had this to say:

Charles Schultz said famously that writer’s block was an amateur’s problem. You’re no amateur. Even if it’s only an unending stream of cussing and grocery listing what you did, thought, and felt today, it should be writer’s cramp you’re aiming at.

And that both humbled and inspired me. I mean, a) thank you CitE for your confidence. I am not an amateur, and I need to get over my inferiority complex. Life and luck have brought me to this particular frustrating crossroads, but that doesn’t take away from what I am and what I’ve done.

But more to the point: I’m not an amateur — if this means something to me, if I actually am a writer, then I need to just pull on my big girl pants and get on with it. Is there a paying audience right now? No. And there may never be again. But this is clearly my thing, and even if I wind up being an unpaid professional, I think I would like to be a professional about it.

And finally, the idea of an unending stream of cussing and grocery listing actually kind of appeals to me. Well, maybe less the “unending stream of cussing” (hell, I do enough of that as is!) and more the idea of grocery listing, but still. Something to shake loose the crumbs of thought, shake out the nits of self-pity, shake free the fears of incompetency. Just: write.

So, I may do that a bit in the next few days. Stephen King writes a lot about having a first draft and a second, the first being where you write with the door closed, just getting down whatever passes through your head about your story, and the second being the one you write with the door open, writing with the outside world in clear view. I don’t know how he would feel about public grocery listing.

But then, I don’t intend to write fiction, and I don’t intend to start treating this blog as an open journal, so perhaps finding some place in the middle — a first and a half draft — will be all right. Between that and my intended return to the Strength to Love posts, I imagine I’ll muddle through.

And hey presto! I just wrote about 550 words about not knowing what to write about. Not so much a writer’s block, as a writer’s cramp. Onward.


And because I am a good and kind blogger, I give you this: Peter Bjorn and John, off of Writer’s Block:


  1. Michael Unger

     /  February 25, 2010

    Read Skeleton Closet, by Stephen King.
    It’s a collection of short stories, mostly written VERY early in his career. They are breathtakingly good writing, and not necessarily “horror” in every example. Some of them were written when he was in high school. Ouch that stings!

  2. Paul in KY

     /  February 25, 2010

    Maybe it’s time for you to start on the great American novel. Or maybe a Bridget Jones type of book, set in Chicago. You could also intertwine some of the things we talk about on Balloon Juice (current affairs type of stuff & how it relates to your protagonists).

    Or you could write a novel set in the Middle East, with say a girl (this is probably not too believable) who was mistakenly (at birth) thought to be the daughter of an Arab couple (and went home with them) only to have the mistake discovered years later & she goes to live with her Jewish birth parents & hilarity ensues. Bet there’d be some conflict in that story. (if this hits, please note that I thought it up).

  3. Gene

     /  February 26, 2010

    Like: thinking (and thinking) about why it is that I am blocked. About if I even want to de-block.

    FWIW, I think there is the crux of the matter.

    I’m not even sure that I should be writing this. You and I are on opposite sides of the Argument, yet of the same Humanity. I love to read your blog for the sheer humanity that oozes from your posts, but I don’t always feel I have the right to let it be known that I’ve been here. Somehow, because of who you are, I get this uncomfortable feeling that I’m stalking you [I’m a she, BTW]. I don’t like that feeling.

    Anyway, I was going to ask whether you fear writing, in this case about the I/P conflict, because of what readers like me might do with your words. Just a thought.

    Here’s wishing you well.

  4. CitizenE

     /  February 28, 2010

    Since the New Year, I have been journaling (like my own private blog for my eyes only). Everything from blood sugar readings to neuroses, cool quotes, meditation mantras, ranting blog posts, recipes, poems, email excerpts, notes on reading War & Peace for the 4th time, book reviews (of books I might never read but look interesting) included. Out of that, not everything is good, but not only does going back over some of it have strongly healing effects, which keep me on track, but some of it, probably some I would have never thought to jot down, is pretty damn good. So if not writer’s cramp, then carpal tunnel syndrome.

    The deal with cussing, by the way, is only when you’re really desperate. What makes you happy Emily? To slightly change Henry Miller’s formula (he was talking about painting), write “as you like and die happy.”

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