Writer’s Block

Last June, on a writing community webpage I joined a couple of years ago, I came across a notice calling for submissions to their new press.  In June I had two jobs that I loved and the thought of all that money coming in made me giddy with planning. Doctor’s appointments! Haircuts! New clothes! And, now, possibly, a dream come true! Without any of the traditional guilt (spend that much money? On me??) I decided I would make the commitment to publish my book.  I took a series of essays that I published on my website on the advent of turning 50 and created a manuscript called “Flip-flops After Fifty.” Even though I was super-busy with my two new jobs, I began to make the time to spruce up my manuscript and submit it. I couldn’t wait.

Then, as quick as you can say, “we’re-just-not-that-into-you,” the ax fell; both jobs were gone. No more piles of gold, no more fun elective surgery appointments and definitely no book.

In August, I submitted my manuscript anyway. The urge to publish was too great to ignore so without a Plan B, I sent it in. After a couple of weeks, I got the news – they were into me.  Suddenly, fall was looking pretty good. I didn’t know where the money was going to come from, but I had faced more difficult challenges before…I had been a single parent living in an affluent Connecticut burg on about $900 a month. What couldn’t I do?

No one was more excited than I was. I spoke to a publisher at the press and she suggested a January release date.  January? As in three months from now January?  The rushing noise I heard in my ears must have been the sound of a dream coming true. Or the hot water heater dumping its contents on my basement floor, because that happened last summer, too. I paused to reflect: the cost.  As a new publishing house, it was essentially a vanity press, which meant that I was responsible for funding the publishing and the editing they recommended. It was more than a pause; it was a considerable consideration.

I decided to figure it out when the time came and I mentally did the math wondering how much more I could stretch my weary credit card. I’ve stared down greater challenges than this before, and this was a Good Thing. What could possibly happen at this point in my life to keep me from realizing my dream? Besides that pesky losing two jobs thing, I mean.

Writer’s Block, that’s what. I know it’s real, I read about it on Wikipedia: “Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity…” It’s intense, alright, and I think I have it. (One indication is that I actually began writing this essay months ago.)

For a while, I blamed my inability to focus on the frequent Grandmother emergencies. “Luca doesn’t have any cookies! I must go to the store and get some animal crackers!” I fall hopelessly in his thrall the moment he greets me in the morning and I get little else done during the day.

There are other reasonable explanations that I didn’t get my manuscript done by the end of September and ready to submit to the editors. Blizzards. There have been several here in the northeast, but to be honest, they came after the January deadline, so they aren’t the best excuse in the world, but they’ll do. Company is another one. I had lots of company. One day I sat upstairs at my computer working on my table of contents only to hear laughter and the melodic trill of an incoming Words With Friends play from my living room. I couldn’t make my Table of Contents behave anyway, so I saved it, unplugged my USB drive and tossed it in my workbag. I joined my friend Sue and we watched movies and secretly checked on appropriate words for the rest of the weekend.

There’s also lunch. You have to eat lunch every day. And clean. That house won’t clean itself, you know.

Writer’s Block is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it should be–in the trauma section. It is traumatic to have a skill, a compulsion, and not even a deadline or the worst self-threats I can think of (and I’m a writer, I can dream up really harsh ones) can shove me towards the computer and place my hands on the keyboard. One guy wrote a book about Writer’s Block (yeah, sure, no problem for him…) and has identified, DSM-style, ten kinds of writer’s block. I chose not to read them so as not to further handicap myself.

My particular case is, in a word, insane. How could I not pursue – finally – the one thing that I’ve wanted to do since as long as I can remember? As a child, I wrote books on ruled pads with construction paper covers and stapled the spine. I posed in front of the mirror that hung on the back of my bedroom door to get just the right look for my book jacket photo. I’ve practiced witty banter so that Oprah, Ellen or, well, anyone, can interview me. What is my problem? Please, please tell me that there is medication for this problem.

A friend of mine, with whom I used to teach, (and we taught English, hence the “with whom”) did publish his book in January. A more malevolent person might have harbored terrible thoughts about his launch, like that maybe it might be postponed or that no one would come. But I didn’t. (I swear!) My friend’s launch both shook me and mobilized me. Honestly, his success was thrilling. No one deserved it more (you know, except for me) and the parties, interviews and glowing articles were tiny pin pricks of reality through the numbness of my block: You can do this, said the tiny painful pin pricks. And I only hope that I can.

I have tons of support…my writing group, for one. And I mean that literally. My writing group is one other person–Trudy. She is about the most wonderfully supportive writing group anyone can have. Every writer should have a writing group as encouraging and as honest as mine is.  My family is also stunningly supportive: husband, children, parents. Brother, sister, cousins and a particularly zealous couple in Florida who also happen to be related to me. I have all the stuff I need – support, computer, ink, USB drives, internet access and time. I just have to talk my irrational fear into releasing control back to my writer’s brain. Yeah, that’s all. And stop hopping in the car to go buy animal crackers for Luca.

Maybe I’ll get past it, maybe I’ll figure out how to shape up my manuscript and get back in the game.

I wrote this, didn’t I?

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One Response to Writer’s Block

  1. Susie says:

    I think writer’s blocks are partly ice, so it should be melting soon!

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