Sunday, August 4, 2019

Diagnostics: I Don't Have Time for Writer's Block

5 am. It rained last night. I know, not because of the drops on the window, or the softness in the air, but the creaks and pops as I slip out of bed. Mornings like this I'm doubly happy we live in a studio apartment. I move about the kitchen, quiet in my slowness. Coffee. Milk. Saucepan. I raise the dimmer lights, check that they're not shining in my spouse's eyes across the house, and settle into my chair. 

"I can't get up that early." That's what most folks say, and I don't blame them. I miss lazy mornings in bed with my dog. I don't remember what sunrise looks like crossing the ceiling above our bed. Instead, I'm here, on this barstool, surrounded by the fruits of my hobby--avocadoes, ivy, aloe, pansies, and so forth--and stare at Scrivener. 

I don't have time for writers' block. I've gotten it before, surely. I spent the last three weeks wholly disinterested in the project I'm currently drafting. But I've come to realize it's the literary Lupus--often a catchall for a collection of symptoms they don't have the desire to explore further. If you've watched the show House you know where this drawn-out metaphor is going. 

I don't have Lupus. Rather, we don't know what I have and it hasn't "popped" into whatever clearer set of symptoms is necessary to say it is or isn't any number of autoimmune inconveniences. It took me almost two decades and six books to realize writer's block is autoimmune--I'm attacking my own work because I don't recognize it. Maybe I don't recognize it yet, or perhaps it's anymore. Hard to say when you're entrenched in a project. Forest through the trees and all that. But that's not the cliche I'm running with today.


5:14 am. I roll my shoulders and wrists while the French press steeps. It's an average day. Mediocre. Pain at a constant, nagging 6. Whatever that means. Those numbers are for other people to quantify. Not for me. Some days I can be on my feet for 8 hours. Some days I can dig 17 holes with my pit partner. Some days I hobble to the kitchen twice and spend the rest of the day weeping in pain. Those days come more frequently now. I don't have time to not recognize my voice, or forget it. Or be disinterested in this project. I'm the only one who can write this book. That's not hubris, that's honesty. You can't write my book just like I can't write yours. I've stopped calling it writer's block, because like most catchall things, whether it's diagnoses or drawers full of fasteners and tin foil, once designated, it's never examined further.


[Image description: a black laptop on a counter beside headphones and a potted avocado. The screen displays Scrivener.] This is my morning writing spot.

Now, when I notice the beginnings of what I might have once called writer's block, I look into what I'm resistant to and go from there. It might be the scene doesn't fit. It might be the character experiences something with which I'm not familiar. Or am too familiar. Burnout, exhaustion, depression, distraction, those are all causes too, but I usually pick up on those quickly. Most recently, I'd forgotten my voice for this series. I started it in 2003, so small wonder. Teasing out the cause for writer's block is no different than worrying a plot knot until it untangles. That means hunching over my computer between 5 and 8:30 and staring at the screen until I either write or the disease is diagnosed and I can move on.

Perhaps it's the human drive for immortality or the echos of capitalist values. Perhaps I've just listened to Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," so much it's in my blood. When folks say they can't get up in the morning, I do envy them. I envy their extra days, I envy that they have the luxury of saying "maybe tomorrow," and it not being a gamble. Surely, the grass looks greener from here, but that's not my point.

5:27 am. Dog out, coffee poured. I'm not interested in writing an action scene. My joints hurt too much for that. But writing this blog has me inspired to Rage. To rebel. The scene where Rih takes up the mantle of general, then. I put fingers to keyboard, and write.



Thanks for reading! What has been your experience with writer's block?


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