If you write and have the cheek to bring those word-assembling activities up while around polite company, someone, somewhere, sometime is going to say that thing we all eventually hear.
“I don’t know how you come up with all those stories.”
If you’re like me, you’ll lie.
You’ll lie because we’ve all been taught to. Maya Angelou, the most exalted grandmother-lady in American fiction told lies to you about her cats and rats and mats and how she types them for weeks, waiting as patiently as only Maya Angelou could for the real words to return so she could get on with the business of telling her stories. You’ll repeat Anne Lamott’s lies about shitty first drafts and you’ll tell those well-meaning members of the polite public the lie Margaret Atwood told you about fearing perfection. After all Stephen King says we have to finish, no matter what, that meeting hard mental granite is no excuse to quit. It’s vital to keep going, even though Chuck Wendig tells you nobody gives two drops of a baboon’s ass sweat about your piddly, tired, cliché-riddled pages. Gird those loins in steel, and get those words out. The digital revolution is in the fourth quarter at the two minute warning and nearly as done as a billionaire’s gray tie swinging from the propeller of his hovercraft. Get your shit together, spew seventy to ninety thousand words of your sub-ego, so you can hit publish on Amazon and be as rich as Joe Konrath in six hours.
And also, Amazon is the name of a megalith monster who only wants to steal your money and cheapen your words until we’re all writing chapbooks for crusts of Jeff Bezos’ piss-soaked bread. Don’t forget!
Just be aware, when you say this it I’m talking about, most of your writer friends and nearly all of the non-wordy people you associate with are going to bolt for the dark, safe places quicker than a Bronx-born cockroach.
Because writer’s block sucks.
Not only does writer’s block suck, we all fear it and deny its power, and speak shame behind our hands over it if someone dares bring it up when more than two writers come together. We abandon each other over it, because that stench hangs in the curtains like dead-smell, no matter how many pretty seaside themed candles you burn. It could creep in and infect you, taking its opportunity to root deep when you’re defenseless, right after a good crit, a long run of happy and productive writing. A contract, for fuck’s sake.
People of the non-word assembling variety might empathize a bit more. They probably picture your pale, pimply self, prostrate before the mythical battered 1937 Underwood typewriter shrine, begging the attention whore they think we call Muse for just one more hit – please baby, please baby, please baby, baby please – of those good words
Your writer friends, the brave ones who stick around after you’ve flipped the switch and a fluorescent flickers its formaldehyde green glare on your block, those are the ones who will support you. That’s why those smart and wealthy writer people also tell you to circulate with other writers, and make a few real friends among them. Some will have even been there themselves, and managed to walk through the dark spaces and emerged on the other side. Tangentially, I consider it no accident that I can easily recall at least three different Stephen King characters who have been forced to travel through tunnels before they can reach their goal. Sometimes a tunnel is just a tunnel, and sometimes a tunnel is a birth canal.
See, the lie all within of those famous, apparently enlightened writer people’s encouraga-quotes we’ve been tacking to inspiration boards on Pinterest is that nobody talks about how the state of being blocked has become a shame. We don’t acknowledge it. We don’t tell the truth about how humiliated we feel when we find ourselves gagging on blank pages. Don’t forget, writers fear that shit could be catching. Non-writers might insinuate it’s a talent-deficit issue. Some of those non-writer people might even believe that fundamentally, down deep in the molecular bonds holding your synthetic blend socks together and underneath your feet, putting words together into stories has no value. Fiction writers are fools, they think, and fools die poor and alone, their frozen, bloated corpses lie exposed to the industrial-blackened rain, awaiting burial in Potter’s Field.
My inner critic, by the way, looks quite a bit like Lionel Barrymore in drag. The voice? Imagine Charlie Brown’s third grade teacher with the ability to articulate actual words.
I call her Mildred.
Mildred doesn’t want me to remember how words have always been vast symphonies, and screaming guitar solos, and delightful little Vaudeville rags for me. Internal critics take on the vestments of shame, and make you cower like no other. The shame, that unspoken it part of writer’s block, is the before of every one of those famous writers’ quotes. Putting their words into a semi-serious hipster font and pasting it over a pretty picture of a frozen waterfall or a sunset-gilded balloon rising to the sky does not take the power of the shame of writer’s block away.
Gentleness, however, often will. Clear-eyed, grown-folk with respect for it as part of the cycle of creativity will.
All fields must lie fallow.
Remember, you are a writer. Turn on the light and talk to whoever has the compassion and the cajones to stick around and nod kindly as they hand you a cup of tea and tell you ‘Yeah, I’ve been blocked too’. Take their comfort. Let their light help you find your way through.
Don’t worry. Don’t be ashamed. You will write again.