The Story I’m Writing
Hey world. I can’t seem to write.
Searching the internet for tips on how to overcome writers block, the only one I found that made any helpful sense at all was the one that said, in an appropriately snarky tone: Want to overcome writer’s block? Then write about it.
. . . but. What does that mean exactly?
Not knowing the answer to that question, I gave it a shot. My first stab at writing about my current and relatively severe case of writer’s block culminated in the single sentence that leads off this entry.
For some strange reason, I found that to be less than helpful. After completing that sentence, my mind said “‘Bout right,” and shifted back into the meaningless buzz of neutral gear. I proceeded to stare at the blip of the cursor against the empty white screen. Again.
Ok, so getting over writer’s block has to be about more than just writing about it, I guess. I tap a few keys, but the blank screen is still threatening to eat my face. I decide to keep looking for more tips so, you know, other people can fix what isn’t working with me.
What I find is basically fifteen thousand different iterations of something I’ve known since the first time I ever sat down to write anything ever. Fifteen thousand creative ways of saying “the hardest part of being a writer is the act of actually sitting down to write.”
Add the full-time care of two active, energetic school-age children and an 18 year marriage and Sisyphean household responsibilities to the above sentiment and you have a perfect recipe for my own personal brand of I CAN’T SEEM TO WRITE A DAMNED THING.
Ok, so. I get it. Writing of any kind is, first and foremost, a discipline. Fine. A discipline that happens to be initiated by a strange perpetual itch to publicly process some observed or experienced phenomenon. That itch is fueled by a certain amount of inexplicable creative . . . mojo. That mojo can quickly become starved out if not fed by that discipline. But that itch … that itch never stops itching.
My worst periods of creative blackout (like this current one) are made almost unbearable by this persistent itch to write, and wholly sabotaged by my own remarkable ability to be completely and wholly undisciplined about it. The mojo becomes harder and harder to conjure. Days pass … weeks pass … I might manage a weak sentence if I’m really lucky, which I’m usually not. But that itch never subsides, it only becomes agitated, and the greater the agitation, the harder it is to turn that itch into something worth working on. These are the moments when the blank screen becomes something so overwhelming and impenetrable that I’m tempted to pass my balled-up fist through it. Somehow I manage not to, and after throwing up my arms in surrender and switching off the blank screen, the itch doesn’t go away. It grows, subersively like dirty little dividing cells. It is a very predictable and very prickly cycle.
And then there is the growing reality of my day-to-day life, one aspect of which this blog attempts to capture. Life with growing children is, to overblunt the sentiment, an efficient and effective dismantler of discipline. During the course of writing these lines, for example, I have been interrupted no less than four times by my four-year old, whom I am responsible for and who is attempting to have her own life, too. There is no room in our home for an office, so I am utterly exposed when working. Historically, the morning and pre-lunch hours are my own personal creative magic hours, and they always have been. I am utterly useless in the afternoon and evening. My brain is a soggy mess and my body is out of gas. There is no mojo and very little itch during these later hours. The most productive time I have ever had in my creative life were the years where I could get up in the morning and write for an hour or so before starting my day as a normal person. I don’t have those magic hours any more. My children are early risers (no matter how we tweak bedtime), and when I attempt to get up at 5:45 or 6 to write, I can maybe chip 3 or 4 words out of the ice of that white screen before there is a small person at my elbow saying good morning. These words essentially begin my day as a full-time father, and the magic hours become lost to the demands of the routine of raising young people. During the brief midday hour-and-a-half that my children are both at school, my creative mind has left the magic hour behind, and sitting down in front of that white screen is a fruitless task that only leads to grumbling and frustration when I try to confront it. Also, there’s a ton of laundry to fold. Also, I fall asleep a lot.
And in relation to this blog, which has gone so quiet over the past few months:
There are days … weeks … when the demands of parenting are so damned difficult, so mired in the slow drudge of task management and everyday shit-shoveling, that sitting down to write about these days just seems out of the question. As the children age, as their lives and personalities become more complex, as they inch their ways towards adolescence and beyond, dragging their aging parents along with them, I have found myself dismissing the notion of reflecting upon days like these. Sometimes I go days without leaving the house. Sometimes I go weeks, months without engaging in adult conversation that doesn’t have to do with kids. I have gone without a shower for days straight, and I’ve done this many times, simply because I’m too damned tired to take them. Days like these suck. They are relentless without relief. And while it’s true that 2012/2013 had an unusual amount of challenges for our family, I have become far too skilled at hording the details of these difficult days and shoveling them into my soul where they cook like cancer and infect my shrinking veins of sleep with tendrils of black shame.
* * *
And there it is. The icky truth. Exaggerated, short-sighted, selfish and indulgent, but when viewed from inside of my days, it can feel like the absolute truth. And it isn’t. The fact that my life is richer, more varied and complex and more rewarding than the above paragraph is undeniable. But life as a stay at home parent can sometimes feel like life lived in a box with no windows. Perspective is shrunken and experience is compartmentalized. Especially when you’ve become caught up in collecting the wrong moments, and holding them closer to your heart than they actually deserve.
I recently confessed this to a confidant: I don’t like the story I’m writing for myself. My life, and the current story of my life are in currently in conflict. This needs to change. More than likely, this is what lies directly at the core of my own writer’s block.
And now I find that “actually sitting down to write”, and “writing about writer’s block” is exactly what I needed to do. And in doing so, certain things are set freely in motion. The question remains whether I have the courage to click the “publish” button.
We’ll see. But for now, I get to go spend a Saturday with my laughing children.