As you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting to Bluebird Blvd. for nearly three whole months.
I’ve been having a problem. A writing problem.
Is it writer’s block?
No, it’s something worse than writer’s block if you can believe it.
Writer’s block is bad enough. And it’s real—don’t give me any of your power right through nonsense, okay? I’ve done that. You can do it, but it’s like dancing on a broken leg. Super painful.
If you write, you know what I’m talking about. You’re sitting in the chair with the paper and the pen and the clock going, and you wait.
For what?!? You ask.
Words. You’re waiting for words.
Well, there are words everywhere, you say. Just pick up a dictionary. Hell, turn on the television. People are speaking them things all the time.
Um. They’re not the right words. That’s the whole problem.
So there you sit. Or you used to—staring at the wall. Waiting for something to materialize. The more you sit and wait, the more you believe you’re going to be sitting and waiting forever. But of course you don’t.
The words come—terribly at first, then a little better, and if you’re lucky, pretty well, and then either you go for broke and it’s hours later and you look up and go whaaaa? —because you’ve totally lost track of time and it’s late and the dogs need their supper….
Again, this is how it used to be.
Now every writer I know has a completely different writing problem.
There are too many words now, dammit. Too many freaking words.
Every day, I wake up to a phone that insists on throwing words at me. I sit up in bed and grab the glass of water I set on the nightstand every evening. I take my pills and pull a book onto my lap—I like to wake up slowly, you see. But there are all of these things that are asking for my attention.
There’s a television set in the other room blathering about the best way to sew a Hong Kong seam. (Yes, The Husband watches his sewing shows before school.)
And my phone beeyooops! because someone on Facebook “likes” the photograph I re-posted yesterday from Humans of New York. (Dude, I love HONY. Best thing on the internet.)
And then Twitbot 3 ker-bleeps! because the alert I set for our current Texas Guvi, Captain Hairdo is blowing up this morning because—oh, is it Christmas already?—he’s being indicted. (For something. Finally.)
Yeah, I know. You’re saying, “This is a problem? I should have such a problem.”
Oh, but it is. It is!
Do you realize that I haven’t even gotten out of bed and my ears are being crammed with words that aren’t my words? They’re not even the words in the lovely book that’s fallen open on my lap like a goofy disembodied grin. These words are semi-random things, mostly banalities, that I’ve personally selected to disrupt me throughout the day.
Yes, yes. You’re getting it now. I did this to myself. It’s a nightmare; it’s a terror. I gave my brain a raging case of writer’s block, but what’s going on isn’t actually anything like writer’s block at all.
Writer’s block is turning on the faucet and only getting a dribble of rusty words. Around here it’s a damn DELUGE. I’m being pelted with a stream of blah-blah-blah seam ripper, blah-blah-blah HONY should win a Nobel this yearii…blah-blah-blah GUESS WHAT CAPTAIN HAIRDO DID NOW!
It’s no wonder I started to have serious problems with writing. There are simply TOO MANY WORDS. And they’re also ALL THE WRONG WORDS.
Look at me. I’m so upset that I’m writing in italics for emphasis. And that’s really, really bad, y’all. It’s the cheapest writing trick in the book. The only thing worse than using italics to hit your paces is… JUST LOOK AT ME. —oh, there it is. The caps-lock gambit.
I’m a mess. But it’s not just me. This word problem is a worldwide emergency.
Some writers have gone as far as locking up their devices when they’re working on deadline. (Hint: If you’re a journalist, this idea may not work.) I know of two novelists (not personally) who disabled the internet capability on their computers.
One of them literally grabbed some glue and gummed up the works in his laptop. The other novelist pulled out the little bit that connects to the internet and put it in a vault and spun the lock.
And these are good writers. The Contemporary Lit kind with the sad smile and the little bald spot and the Ivy League education and the author’s photo on some street on the Eastern Seaboard and everything. If those guys can’t pull out of a writing nosedive caused by looking at crap on their phones, what the hell am I supposed to do?!? You know me—I am as ridiculous as I tell you I am. I may be even more ridiculous than I report to you—I don’t know.
Well, this is what I’ve come up with so far: WALLPAPER. Just hear me out. You know how the first thing you see when you turn on your computer in the morning after it warms up is your desktop wallpaper, right?
Why not write something to REMIND you to write and make it into DESKTOP WALLPAPER, so that EVERY TIME you look up from some bullhound conversation you’re having on Twitter instead of writing your novel, you’ll get the point.
It’s better than guilt or an alarm or an expensive POMODORO system or GET ‘R’ DONE or any of those marketing things that help you yell at yourself to get work finished.
Or so I thought at the beginning of this summer.
In June, I designed this desktop picture and put it on my Mac so that it was the first and last thing I ever see on my computer.
Cute, right? Okay, well that was a novelty for about a week. Then I pretty much forgot it was there and still was struggling with writing.
As you can see with this next one, I ratcheted up the noise. I didn’t want to miss this when I looked up from my browser with three tabs open that have nothing to do with me writing at the moment: The Mary Sue, Pinterest, Facewitter. Something like that.
And so that wore off in a few weeks as well. Around the beginning of July, I started to panic. That’s when I created this beaut right here:
But you know what? I ran the first part of my writing career based on fear. I’m pretty immune to fear at this point.
Plus, I am a born existentialist. You figured that out, right?
Also, I’ve been to graduate school. I was already a professional writer when I entered graduate school at 25. Graduate school is way more scary than the actual writing world. I kid you not.
Finish an MFA and you’ll be hard-pressed to be afraid of anything ever again. Deadlines. Coral snakes. Mortgages. I’m serious.
None of this mattered by early August. I guess I made this? It’s all kind of a blank here on out:
And, um, this.
Here’s the last thing I haven’t really tried lately—plumping up my ego.
You know that writers have notoriously fragile egos, right? Well, mine is not so fragile. But as a writer, I am kind of like Peter Pan in that I like it when you look up to the sky and think of me from time to time.
Geez, I’ve missed you all.
Oh, just one more thing. I know the social media stuff is just witchy for writers. Actually, it’s so bad that it’s made me nostalgic for old-fashioned writer’s block.
Sweet cracker sandwich, has it come to this?
i That spelling is intentional. In Texas, you have the Guv and you have the Lite Guv. The Lite Guv is the guy with the power. The Guv. is usually a figurehead. Usually. (Anne Richards was no figurehead, darlin’!)
ii (Brandon Stanton is hitting all the right marks with his ongoing Goodwill tour. If you’re not following him right now, you should go and do that immediately. Then come right back, okay?