I get up at 3:30 am to write. I start and discard three articles I’d been working on for a week. I pen a pitch and delete it. Three short story ideas I had become a source of frustration more than anything else.
5:00 am and it’s already one of those days where every sentence becomes a fight-to-the-death struggle with letters and punctuation and ideas. In the end, the white space is hailed as conqueror.
I start something – an article I’ve been promising an editor for three weeks. Two sentences in and it’s already a failed piece. I put that in the drawer marked “Brain Hurts. Try Again Later.” Next: another promised piece, a pitch already accepted, an editor waiting. I do a bit of research, track down a couple of links and as soon as my fingers hit the keys, a magnetic force field takes over and I am unable to type a single word. That unfinished piece gets put in the file marked “Unable to Conclude. Come Back Again When You’ve Had More Sleep.” Let’s try this: a couple of album reviews. Easy to write, doesn’t take much thinking, a quick filler until you can get your brain working later on. Except it’s not easy to write. I’m stuck in first gear in the fast lane. A thousand other ideas are honking and tailgating, telling the album review to get the hell out of the lane if it’s not going to move forward. So I rush the piece, drive like a maniac over the keyboards through places I know where I should stop, crossing white lines and driving the wrong way down one way roads. Screech. Stop. Ride over. Ok, so the car is banged up a bit, but at least the review didn’t go in the unfinished files like the other ones. Or did it? Yes, it did.
Frustration sets in. I have plans! I have ideas! I have phrases that would kick Ernest Hemingway’s ass! I just can’t put them all together. It’s the level of hell known as Writer’s Block, the level that Dante himself probably never knew. All he had to do was keep adding levels. He would never run out of ideas as long as numbers still went to infinity. 1,248,474th Circle of Hell: Furries.
Ok, switch gears. There’s always just blogging mindless stuff to get the words flowing. There’s always celebrities to be made fun of. There’s always other articles I can get paid to write, stories yet untouched, ideas not yet knocked back by my editor. I’ve got a hundred links here that need to be reviewed, read and put into separate piles: Junk News and Real News. I read through the real news and come across at least five different stories I could write about. An idea for an editorial comes out of nowhere, the proverbial light bulb going on over my head. Ok, write. Type. Think. Bang head on keyboard as the words I had a minute ago escape out of brain in the form of a baseball bat, which then smashes the light bulb to pieces. Forget any drawers or files. Throw this idea in the garbage pail.
Work on editing and rewriting your Great American Novel as there’s an agent sort of waiting for that rewrite. Nothing. Realize that this morning is becoming an infinite series of failure. Sit and wonder how other people can not only come up with clever ideas day after day, but act on them, finish them, make them look effortless. Drink coffee. Drum fingers on desk. Sigh a few times. Type random words. Just call the day a waste at 6am, admit I have writer’s block and move on. Watch the Weather Channel, determine that yes, it is cold outside. Wonder how to get more people to read my work. Check page views. Make sure they haven’t slid off into negative numbers. Realize that you have switched voices in this run on thought so many times it’s been diagnosed as schizophrenic.
There’s a dark, dark place in the mind of a writer. It’s a void, a black hole, a vacuum, a space where nothing happens, where ideas are aborted, where words disappear, where ability goes to die. It’s a space where nothing happens, where we just free float in that darkness, flailing helplessly in the atmosphere as we wait to fall to the ground with a resounding crash. Burn on impact.
Then get up, dust yourself off and do it again. Because on one of these tries, you’ll get it. You’ll avoid the dark space. You’ll hit the light. But oh, those days when you’re in the dark feel endless. Writer’s block is the February of our minds. Bleak, desolate, seemingly never ending.
Writing is not so much a process as it is what happens after the process. It’s getting out of that traffic jam into a clear lane.
Even if that comes by way of spending 834 words writing about how you have writer’s block.
All the thoughts become tangled, crossing over into each other, twisting their arms together, joining hands, becoming one. I have no idea which thoughts were growing and which were stagnant, which were flush with life and which were brittle and broken. It is all scratching at broken ideas and unfinished sentences, pawing at the blank spaces between fragmented paragraphs.They reach across the space that once separated them, seeking each other out, fingers in search of something other than what they are, even if its destructive. The snapping and crackling as they clash and fight before giving is maddening and I welcome the quiet that comes when they’ve bridged the gap, even if it means I no longer understand anything those old bones are telling me. The tangled quiet is better than the cacophony of noise.
The words are alive with the sound of unreasonableness. They are active little creatures and while I want them to be alive and active, I also need them to be cooperative. They are, however, tiny little children, hellions determined to do everything in their power to make my morning difficult.
I’ve been wrestling with them for months, trying to pin them down in at the very least a three count so I can finally hold my hands high in triumph. But every time I think I have them in the right position they slip my grasp and I’m unable to hold them in place. And when I do grasp them for a few minutes, they will not relent. They give me unfinished phrases, thoughts with no endings, unbalanced finality.
I stare at the page, a blank sheet which looks like the proverbial polar bear in a snow storm. Somewhere, a sentence laughs.
They are petulant as well as obstinate. I have brought them together in entire paragraphs only to have sentences rebel against me and demand to leave the fold or be moved to a better position. The sentences fight me at every turn, refusing to stand where I want them to, turning their backs on me just when I think I have them complacent. At times the sentences break up into words, scatter about aimlessly so what once seemed cohesive becomes a jumble of bratty kids all wandering the toy aisle unattended. It’s all noise and slobbering mess and I become tempted to round them up, throw them outside and pretend I was never with them.
They demand. They want to be dressed better. They want to be more formal. They want smoother edges sometimes and other times they cry for more jagged, pointed ends. They want to be held up, prodded, lifted by the other words and then they turn around and demand to be let go, leaving everything around them floundering, drowning in a pool of adverbs and adjectives that were meant to save them, not sink them.
I try, but I just do not know what they want. They cry to me. The paragraphs, the sentences, the words. They want to be put together. They want to form a more perfect union. Then why do they fight me so? I grab them all, force them together and when one full sentence protests, I shrink it down, it loses ungainly weight as I work on it and then suddenly it cries out for that weight back and I can’t, I can’t deal with the indecisiveness anymore so the backspace key comes in, a stretcher underneath the body of the sentence, carrying the words out one at a time until it’s gone, time of death pronounce to be not a moment too soon. There’s no time to mourn, there are other words, other entire paragraphs that need the stretcher and soon they are crying, wanting to be rescued or put out of their misery.
There’s a great, big nothing here on this white page. Just a vast, hollow emptiness accompanied by the sound of snickering words laughing off camera.
I will find them. I will make them obey. They will cooperate.
But not today. Today is for polar bears in the snow.