Words just aren’t coming to me today. I have no sense of purpose. What good is a blog when you have nothing in particular to say? (I’ll bet you’re really eager to read on now. Go ahead, spend another five minutes of your life reading a useless post by a flailing author.) This is what it’s like inside a writer’s mind. This is how we think. Well, I’ll speak for myself: shiftless, meandering, lazy, uninteresting, wooden, who cares, vanilla – just a sampling of the adjectives that seize at my gut like bacteria, making it damned challenging to digest ideas, to stomach my own words. I am a harsh critic of my little baby ideas. I cannot imagine being nearly so impatient with anyone else, standing behind them tapping my foot dismissively as they struggle for words. Never in a million years would I abuse a young child attempting an uncharted challenge. But I can rip my infant essay in to shreds with bearlike tenacity, leaving claw marks on my psyche and little clumps of fur on the keyboard.
So here’s what writer’s block feels like in my body. 1. Restlessness is the first symptom. I don’t like my chair. I think I’ll clean off my computer screen. Okay, I’ll open up the document and maybe re-read something I wrote a while ago. Oh, hey, that’s not awful. It’s pretty good. Did I write that? Huh, so I’m not lower than shit in a 50 year old cesspool, I guess I’ll just start writing now. But this feels terrible. I have nothing to say. I can’t get the metaphor quite right so I type “metaphor here later”. Oh my god, I have to get up. I don’t care what Anne Lamott or Steven King say about keeping your butt in the chair because I cannot tolerate one more second at this keyboard. I have GOT to get up and…what? It doesn’t matter. Maybe I need to empty the dishwasher. I don’t like how that pile of mail looks so sloppy and asymmetrical; I’ll just align the edges of the envelopes—oh, look at this mailer; Premium Pro Paint company is having a winter special, two rooms for the price of one. The family room could definitely use a fresh coat. Do we have another room that needs painting? I should walk around the house right now and check. I think I hear the damn dog at the back door again — didn’t I just let him out 10 minutes ago?
Restlessness is inevitably followed by a secondary symptom:
2. Imaginary hunger. I am hardly ever physically hungry. The appetite that surfaces with writer’s block is a kind of emotional emptiness that has my chin covered in potato chip crumbs before it’s actually registered in my brain that I have crossed the kitchen, opened the pantry doors and pulled out the bag. Typically, I have great eating habits. Except when I’m anxious. And a session of writing rarely, if ever, begins without anxiety. Ergo, chips. Or nuts. Or crackers. Or CHEESE. Love cheese. I’m a morning writer, but if my sessions were in the afternoon, I’d be reaching for the cookies no question. And on the few occasions when I’ve left my writing until after dinner, the the wild Chardonnay stalks me. (I completely get why so many writers are drunks, addicts, or otherwise neurotic. I do not understand the ones who are well-balanced, productive, and high-functioning.) For me, indulging any of the above appetites leads to:
3. Indigestion, self-criticism, and a deep sense of ennervation. None of these lends itself to flowing prose.
4. Repeat sensations 1-3 as necessary.
5. Here’s the magic: who knows how or why, but if I can manage to tolerate these physical twitches and emotional discomforts and stay at the keyboard, some alchemy takes over and I lose myself. I am neither embodied nor disembodied, just quiet and focused. Hours can go by and I have no sense of time or bodily need of any kind. It’s heavenly.