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.

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