When Words Fail You
The chatter in my head had been battering me all day.
“See? You’re not a real writer.” “Who cares about what you have to say?” “Bah! You knew this would happen all along.”
A week before, I had signed the publishing contract for my book and now I couldn’t write a damned thing. The acquiring editor had gushed over my writing – so why this sudden insanity?
I wasn’t even able to get within three feet of my computer without feeling nauseous. Was this writer’s block? I had heard a lot about that much-avoided topic over the years, but never experienced the grip of it myself. Now it had me by the throat and slammed me against the wall.
I needed to understand what I was up against. So after spending half a day on Google, I discovered that some writers hate the term writer’s block – that actually it’s just a laundry list of things that can lead to the slowdown of creativity. But whatever your opinion is about what to call it, or why it happens, I just want to say that as a writer, the sudden inability to write is terrifying. And I’m not alone.
I discovered it happens to thousands of writers every year.
Did you know that Truman Capote spent the last ten years of his life pretending to write a novel that was never there? And Harper Lee once complained after publishing To Kill A Mockingbird, “I’ve found I can’t write…I have about 300 personal friends who keep dropping in for a cup of coffee.”
And then there’s Stephen King, who confessed that after publishing Sword in the Darkness, what followed was months of drinking beer, and watching soap operas.
I decided if the writing elite and other writers have had to suffer through it, then who am I to think it couldn’t affect me too? I stuffed my laptop under the bed and walked out of the room. Too embarrassed to admit my droop in creativity, for a month I refused to attend my beloved weekly feedback group.
Then I did what I always do when I need to clear my head. I cleaned. I sorted through boxes in the attic and basement, scrubbed out the fridge and transformed a bedroom into an office. I rolled up rugs and moved furniture. I was a maniac, so devoted to the importance of my tasks (at least I could do this!) I actually cracked a rib.
Then one day I got a call from my publisher asking me to move two important details into an earlier chapter. It meant writing something new! Could I do it? I set down the broom, and plugged in the computer. My hands were shaking.
I stared at the screen and gently poked a key. I wrote a sentence, then another. Soon I was stabbing at the keyboard, my fingers a blur. At some point my stomach grumbled, and I glanced at the clock, shocked to see five hours had passed. I didn’t want to stop. I was luxuriating in the arrangement of words, reveling in the magic of this miracle.