what I write about when I can’t write

what I write about when I can't write 8.12.14

Roughly two years ago, I took the time to calculate the total number of words I had written in less is more since its beginning in September 2010. I followed that up with some online research about how many words appear on the page of a published book. My limited math skills notwithstanding, I estimated that I had already written somewhere north of 300 pages in total.

I emphasize this because now, with another two years of posts on top of that, I feel compelled to disclose that finding something to write about doesn’t come naturally or easily for me. More often than not, I don’t begin writing my posts until Monday night, finishing them Tuesday morning immediately before publication. And since I began this blog nearly four full years ago, I can count on one hand the number of times that I actually had another post finished and ready to go behind the one I had just published. In other words, I leave myself little margin for error. My emotional state while writing generally reflects this, beginning with initial nervousness, transitioning into mild panic, then  giving way to a feeling or relief as I begin to see the piece take shape in my mind.

My writing process generally follows the same pattern: more often than not, I sit in front of my computer for 15-20 minutes racking my brain for something to write about before a workable concept makes itself apparent to me. But sometimes, on rare occasions, the concept refuses to reveal itself. And this Monday night – last night, as you’re reading this – the concept isn’t just playing hard to get; it has fled the country to avoid extradition. Rather than fight it, try to will myself through brute force to think of something brilliant, I’m instead going to give you a brief journey into the mind of someone who’s suffering from writer’s block.

5:35 PM

I sit down at my laptop after a short break following the end of my professional work day. I feel confident. Though I spent spare moments in the day fruitlessly trying to identify a topic for this post, I think something will come to me now that I can focus my undivided attention on the WordPress “new post” page.


I press “play” on my laptop’s keyboard, intending for a quiet, soothing playlist to swell out of my speakers. However, for reasons I don’t fully understand, sometimes hitting play initiates songs from my Spotify playlists, while others it kickstarts iTunes. Instead of James Taylor (Spotify), I wind up with Max’s band, One Click Waiting, unexpectedly blasting away (iTunes). Althought I could easily navigate between the two programs physically to stop one and start the other, I insist on trying to resolve the issue using only the computer’s keyboard. I fail. One Click Waiting’s soon-to-be-released EP it is! (If you’re the father of the lead singer and songwriter, you get an advance copy.)


I conservatively estimate that I have listened to this EP 123 times since getting it 3 weeks ago. I usually put it on a loop while working out. Lifting weights doesn’t require any real brain power. Writing – even my writing, apparently – does. The music overrides any single thought that might help me in my hour of need. I tap my foot loudly and air drum during the chorus. I am not getting any work done but I’m nailing that imaginary snare and high hat. It vaguely occurs to me that this is why I didn’t get better grades in college.


Fifteen minutes have elapsed and I have no ideas. On the bright side, I have determined that the 4th and 5th tracks on Max’s album, “rock.” Nuanced analysis of any kind, even relating to the music I’m listening to, isn’t happening.


I haven’t typed a single word and I’ve now been staring at my computer for 30 minutes without even one idea. Max’s EP has ended and I’m now safely in “non-distracting music” mode. Unfortunately, that hasn’t awakened whatever twisted muse normally inspires me. I hypothesize that perhaps One Click Waiting bludgeoned my muse into submission via sonic shockwaves. And that is the closest thing to an inspired thought that I’ve had since sitting down. This is not promising.


I have to leave to pick up Max from a music lesson in 10 minutes. Worry – meet Panic. Panic – Worry is leaving now. Won’t be back until next week, same time.

Panic has entered the picture because after snagging Max, it’s straight to dinner with the whole family. I won’t get home until after 8. My foot is still tapping furiously, but there’s no music compelling it.


I theorize that I could write an entire post about how I can’t think of anything to write. I quickly discard the idea, labeling it a gimmick.


Now that I reconsider it with all of 120 seconds having elapsed since I first thought about it, writing about writer’s block seems like a brilliant idea. I conclude that it’s a postmodern deconstruction of the perils of artistic expression. It’s decided then. I type a quick few paragraphs and close my laptop and go to pick up Max.


I return home with Caroline and a friend in tow for a sleepover. Dinner was dominated by the discovery that Robin Williams apparently committed suicide earlier today. Now I’m panicked and depressed.


I let my daughter talk me into trying to start a fire in the back yard to roast marshmallows with her friend. Despite the fact that I  have no good firewood, no kindling to speak of, and only 200 words of my post so far, I agree.


The fire finally catches. I am nothing if not persistent. I know this proves that if I were ever in an actual survival situation, I’d be dead inside of an hour unless I happened to get stranded with a blowtorch and a package of logs soaked in kerosene.

I crack open my laptop and type in, “5:36.”


The most brilliant aspect of my deciding to write this post is the fact that recording a chronological list of events is easy, as is  mocking my own stupidity. Since my stupidity knows no boundaries, the words spill onto the screen. I congratulate myself. I’m nearly done.


I sit by the fire in my back yard getting bitten by mosquitoes, dimly aware that I’m probably contracting West Nile virus. I worry for a second but then conclude that it’s not all bad – a trip to the hospital for a real illness will provide some quality content in upcoming posts.


It is finished. No wait – I should probably read the whole thing again to make sure it’s semi-coherent.


It is finished. Really.


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