Humor :: Are you writing?

Twirlers standing at attention for photograph. 1960s.
Ready?  Okay!  Let’s write!

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.

Twirlers - Are you writing?

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.

Marching band sitting on steps, cheering "Writing! Writing! Rah-rah-rah! Turn of your phone! Sis-boom-bah. Gooooooood writing!

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:

Drum majorette holding baton aloft, saying "Oh my Hunter S. Thompsons, I don't know what the meaning of life is anymore. I mean, if I can't figure out how to tune out technology and write, what the hell else am I going to do? Seamus Heaney never had this problem. I am not going back to grad. school, do you hear me?!? Write dammit. Write like a frightened graduate student.

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:

High school drum major marching in the dark shouting about social media: I'll write a novel based on social media because the people, they like the social media. And then Random House will contact me on the Twitters and then New York Post Best Seller list.

And, um, this.

Drum Major marching in the dark: Let's all channel young Marty Feldman. I will write like bebop. And, Lo, it is time for the ritual burning of the cellphones. Get the chafing dish.

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.

Who doesn’t?

Geez, I’ve missed you all.

Majorette doing backbend while saying: I tame six verb tenses before breakfast. I built this parade with sweat, words, and a pen. You have the sniffles? Call a doctor. You need a world built? Call a writer.

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?

13 thoughts on “Humor :: Are you writing?”

  1. Write to me to break the social media inertia. Tell me your story of late. I’ve been a poor correspondent and stumbled into a work-related, windup bird chronicle-like hole. Trying desperately to claw my way out.

    When I get stuck, writing a letter always helps tame the words.

    Sending love and wrench for that tap.

    1. Kate! I’ve been thinking about this exact fix! I’d love to correspond with you by email or post—your choice. I even bought a small packet of really creamy Clairfontaine Triomphe stationery in July in the hopes to start some correspondence with two or three friends. (Email is great too, if you’d rather.) You are brilliant!

      Sending love back. Sounds like you’re in a bit of a bad spot—I’d love to hear your stories as well. Big mental hug coming your way.

      Oh! And thanks for the wrench. 😀

  2. We used to have an Apricot tree in the back yard when I was a kid. My grandmother planted it, along with a pair of plum trees (one for eating, one for preserves). They would ripen in the early summer, and at first there would be a few. Soon there would be so many the branches bowed from the weight.
    Grandma was a perfectionist. With three grand-kids under seven she had a small enthusiastic team of fruit-picking monkeys ready to go. All she had to to was stand back, look at all of that fruit, and have us pick specific ones, the ripest ones. The harvesting process took about four or five days. Sure, most all of the fruit was ripe, but she could spot the ripest ones. Those went into the jelly-making machine, and the rest went into pies.

    So the trick, at least as far as I see it, is to think of all of those words on a tree. You already know which words are ripe for what you need for that day’s writing jar. You just gotta fill it.

    …and no, I have never had this problem. I am just shooting from the hip.

    1. I love your writing analogy, and it got me to thinking about what conditions might be necessary for a writer to feel a sense of genuine word-intrusion—which I’ve started to call Social Media Logorrhea. I know that I’ve never been able to tolerate the sound of a television prior to working, nor do I like to have lengthy conversations. I work best when my mind is fresh and uncluttered. That period happens to be the morning, about 30 minutes after I wake up, which I think aligns rather neatly with the studies done on writers and peak hours for creativity.

      What I started to think about last night after reading yout comment was the possible common link from the writers most apt to be disrupted by sonic/ visual dross, and that thought alone led me to wondering whether lyrical prose stylists (and poets) have the most to lose by having their train of thought disrupted.

      I’ll come back to this in a bit. I’m sitting in the allergist’s office post-allergy shot, and the Disney Channel is blaring in one ear, while the other ear is being inundated with the delightful shouting of Fox News’ resident pundits. : D

  3. Sounds like a self induced Denial of Service attack , or Sensible Tower of Babel Syndrome as we called it in the Fifties .. Most strickenees finally just get tired of all this and work something out …

    1. Do you know this comment has been on my mind ever since you posted it? Much like “Ax’s” comment, you have nicely pointed out that there has got to be some reasonable way out of this problem.

      In the last six months, I’ve made some progressive changes in the ways I interact with social media and the internet when I’m writing, and—this is key—when I’m not writing.

      Some examples:

      I’ve set the research phase for any project even more in advance of writing a short lead feature subject to avoid the inevitable possibility of distracting down-the-rabbit-hole type scenarios.

      I’ve sp

  4. Welcome back, and apologies, according to wordpress, I /wasn’t/ following you??? No idea how that happened. Anyway, I think you may have got your mojo back now. 🙂

  5. Oh Courtenay, I’ve missed your writing! And I have the same issue… Gah. Left Facebook and some other blabla because of it allready. Wrote two long blogposts about it. Still haven’t made new work. So many distractions. Wish you lots of words. Your own words. Because they are beautiful and we need more of that. And less, much less blabla. X

    1. Yvonne—thank you so much for the compliments! What a nice boost for my Bluebirdian self-esteem. Aww!

      The social media disruption appears to be a big issue for people in all sorts of fields, but I have reason to believe it’s especially disruptive to artists of all stripes. In short-term scientific studies, researchers have likened the phenomenon to the notoriously fragmented minds of those who have AD(H)D.

      I think creative people who freelance have to be excellent problem solvers when it comes to obstacles like distraction. As early as six years ago, the brilliant (young!) writer Zadie Smith advocated using blocking software or single-user mode in order to work uninterrupted for long stretches of time.

      Hey! Before I blather on, do you want to post links here to your blog posts on this subject? I would love that!

Hey there, Cupcake! How are ya?

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