Writer’s Block

The most cruel thing that can happen to a writer is total Writer’s Block.  It is, for a writer, worse than having one’s hands chopped off.  Even with no hands, one can always dictate words to a person or a computer, but the dreaded Block steals the very core of the process.

Fresh ideas from the “little gray cells,” as Hercules Poirot would say, are our stock in trade.  What overlays the ideas is merely clever storytelling and ornamentation.  In other words, most of us who claim to be writers (and yes, I’m including myself) are essentially windbags just talented enough to expound on any germ of an idea until it becomes apparently richer or more entertaining, and thus “worth reading.”  Steal our inspiration, dampen our creative wool, burn our stockpile of ideas tucked away for future use, and suddenly we are left with nothing to expound upon.  We become, in our own minds, blasé.  It’s a horrifying prospect for us egotists.

This happens to me from time to time.  My little muses evaporate with a change in my mood, and with them go the blog, the chatty emails I sometimes write to friends, and my best record of who I am at the moment.  It’s an awkward feeling.  What I write defines a large part of who I am.  Without writing for a while, I begin feel like I am leaving no impression on the world, I’m just taking up space and waiting for something to happen.

Which isn’t really true of course.  I know I have a bigger footprint than just these little Internet scribbles.  But writing has become such an outlet and important process for coalescing the thoughts in my head that it has become essential to my daily life.  It’s just like the person who runs daily, and pines when injured and unable to gain the happy endorphin feeling. That little bit of exercise (whether mental or physical) becomes the key to a well-balanced perspective on all other things.

When I stopped the Tour of America blog and started “Man In The Maze,” my friend Charlie accused me of being a blogging addict:

Your behavior is parallel to the withdrawal syndrome from opiates, ethyl alcohol, or nicotine.  You can’t control the impulse.

You must first acknowledge that you have a problem; somewhere in the vast expanse of southern AZ is a blognot support group.

Looking back I can see (sarcastic comments aside) that writing has been my lifelong habit. Even in high school and college I had a fantastic IBM Selectric II that I loved to use to type out long letters.  It had the most marvelous keyboard action, just tap a key, feel the “click” of the button, and watch the powered type ball leap up and smack the paper assertively.  Typing on it was an industrial symphony: the electric motor hummed like an air conditioner and a faint smell of warm machine oil would waft out of the innards, and the ball would flick around whacking the paper with precision and unflappability.

You could never type fast enough to jam it, which was in itself enough reason to love the machine after using any manual typewriter, but the IBM was more than just a better mousetrap; it was one of those incredible machines that came out of the slide-rule era of engineering. Like the thrice-supersonic SR-71 (the fastest aircraft ever made, even today), it represented the pinnacle of what brilliant engineers could do with paper and brains, long before there were CAD stations on every desk. The Selectric II, and the kludgy ASR-33 TeleType that taught me how to type before that, were tactile and thunderous and they made me feel like I was doing something with every punch of a key.

Now, thirty years later, I type on nearly silent plastic keys, and the letters jump up in a virtual space.  It lacks the apparent permanence of paper and ink, but the ideas presented here really have a shelf life considerably longer than the letters from my Selectric.  Those letters are — for the most part — lost.  At least here on the Internet there are a few people who will read the words, and the essays are retained by anonymous computers for me to reference someday in the future.

That is the gift of the Internet to frustrated writers everywhere.  We must communicate or die of mental constipation.  Here we can be guaranteed of publication, regardless of the opinions of obstructionist editors and publishers.  Even though I am both (and hence can approve publication of my own screed) I take full advantage of the Internet as an alternative outlet.

And more than that — I take advantage of the Internet as a way to break the curse of Writer’s Block.  See, when I began this essay I had absolutely nothing to talk about.  For days I’ve been opening up the WordPress blog software and staring at the blank screen, then closing it again a few hours later.  So I finally wrote just two words: “Writer’s Block” and let you, my friendly readers, be the inspiration.  It’s a partnership we have, you & I.  Thanks.


  1. says

    Writer’s Block – its the perfect name for a rather laid-back, magical campground. Maybe on a wind-strewn shore or tucked amongst the saguaros and ocotillos, with ample space for long walks & wistful wandering. It’ll draw a melancholic band of finger-tied writers from all over the planet – a sure-fire success!

    I remember (with wonder) the magic ball of the Selectric typewriter. I was too young (only just) to tap out my stories but remember marvelling at how the ball managed to turn at lightning speed and never missed a letter.

    If the block continues I can heartily recommend ‘Just My Type’ by Simon Garfield: A light-hearted ramble through the history of typefaces, with a whole chapter on Selectrics and even a guy in NY who tried to spend a whole day without Helvetica !


    And if all else fails, do what I do – just take photos.


  2. insightout says

    You know it is only an eight hour drive to Rancho Mirage. The Betty Ford Institute can and will provide the counseling you need.

    A special financial incentive is available (with or without adequate insurance coverage) if you take the blogger, Jack, with you to seek joint treatment.

  3. Forrest says

    From writer’s block to a wonderful essay. Very nice. I used to “borrow” my mom’s IBM Selectric when she was at work. She was very protective of it and I wasn’t supposed to touch it. But I couldn’t resist its dancing ball.

  4. Marie Luhr says

    Trying to think of something clever to say about this blog, but nothing’s as darn clever as writing about not being able to write!!! Now that’s ingenious. Congratulations on a very fun blog.