How to beat writer’s block: Write about your failure to write


Why can’t I write? I don’t understand it. I read books about writing, and then feel overcome with the desire to write. But later, I’ll do it later, when I have time, when I’m alone.

I’ve gotten up every day, for months now, and written my morning pages: three pages of stream of consciousness scribbling. I’ve gone on creative excursions and given myself precious time alone. I took a drawing class, to exercise some different artistic muscles. I did all 12 weeks of The Artist’s Way, including the awful one where I gave up reading, podcasts and television. I’ve laid every bit of groundwork I can, and then some. I am the person who wants to write a novel, but instead spends years building the perfect writing cottage in the backyard. I think my cottage is finished now. I have no excuses left.

This week, I am in Oriental, at the marina where we keep our sailboat. My daughter is at camp all day, and I am alone with a view of sparkling water and sail boat masts and pine trees. All of it is baking in the relentless summer sun, yet I am comfortably chilled inside the air-conditioned lounge. I told myself today was my writing day. I would get Amelia to camp and then write first, before anything else got in the way. Before the day’s distractions and obligations built to that critical mass that makes writing impossible.

As soon as I was alone, I wrote my morning pages — three handwritten pages of complaints about the weather — and then it was time to open a file on the computer and work on an essay. An essay that, maybe one day, I might even try to get published. But who knows. I’d be satisfied if I just finished writing the damned thing. I’m embarrassed to say how long it’s been sitting there half-finished.

Yet, as soon as I even think about opening that file, the predictable cycle sets in. I feel an irresistible desire to check Facebook, to maybe check in on a few blogs. I click on a few links, read a few stories on why Trump is terrible, and then read some other people’s blog posts — which only serve to remind me that other people are sitting down and writing lovely essays, and all I’m doing is procrastinating again. Part of me thinks: If it’s this hard, why bother? Why keep trying? Or not even trying so much as planning to try?

But the thought of giving up, it feels like giving up on myself. Giving up on the idea that there is anything more than this right here, than reading this eight-hundreth story about how Trump is the next Hitler. As it is now, there is always some horizon, just out of sight, where I am writing with abandon. And I like having something just over the horizon. I like that sense of possibility.

At some point, though, I actually have to do the work. I have to sit here and type words on a screen. I have to stop saying I’ll do it later, after I check the election forecast one more time, after I check the weather forecast one more time to confirm that yes, I actually did send my daughter to an all-outdoor sailing camp when the heat index is 110 degrees and there is barely a breath of wind to cool her skin or a cloud to shelter her from the sun. My god, what kind of mother am I?

The truth is, my waterfront paradise is not living up to my expectations. Every time I step outside this air conditioned room, a wave of sticky heat slaps me in the face. An insect lands on my exposed flesh and bites, or circles around my head at close range, or dive bombs into my ear. The air is still, the sky is bleached pale blue by a merciless sun. A single butterfly is all that’s moving outside the window; where does it find the energy? Tired of this air conditioned cocoon, I put on my bathing suit and jump into the pool, but I can’t stop thinking of my poor suffering child. I buy her ice cream every day to assuage my guilt.

The peace and inspiration I was counting on have failed to arrive. Instead, I am craving the comforts of home. So I open my laptop and just start typing. I write this, not from a place of peace and inspiration, but from the middle of my messy, never-satisfied, always-searching brain. And maybe, just maybe, that’s as good as place as any to start from.

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