I’ve never believed in Writer’s Block. I always thought it was a convenient excuse for soft people who didn’t want to do the hard work of sitting in a chair for hours on end, wrestling with the thousands of words needed a create an entire book.
I was kind of superior about the whole thing. A little smug, because I’ve always been disciplined, able to force myself to write even when I didn’t feel like writing, and that of course is the secret to finishing a book. Even when you’re sick of the story, and you don’t know where it’s going or how it will end, just write your way through, and eventually you’ll come on out on the other side with a complete manuscript as a reward for your labor.
So basically, I thought Writers Block was for sissies.
And then my dad died.
He passed away in September and ever since I’ve had trouble stringing more than three words together. The annual Christmas letter was hard. This blog post is hard. And the book I’m working on? The book that is already half written with a solid synopsis and signposts that say TURN HERE, and big spotlights showing me where to go next, and characters I know and love so well, the book that is actually my favorite book so far and was so much fun to write when I started.
I can’t look at it. I can’t open the word document that bears the title. In other words, I just can’t write.
I’ve tried to write other things, to pick up old manuscripts, to start something new. And I can’t do it.
I just can’t write.
If writing fiction is a superpower, grief has become my kryptonite. The power to create with words is gone. Drained away. And because I don’t know where this power came from in the first place, I don’t know how to bring it back.
I’m searching, a little desperately, for breadcrumbs, trying to follow clues back to the place where the words and characters and ideas originated. I think of the ability to write as a stream, tricking through an underground cavern, and I must somehow follow it through rocks and crevices into high mountain passes, to the patches of snow and ice where creativity begins.
This search is leading me back to books written by other people, because like all writers, I started to write because I love to read.
And I have time to read, now that I’m not writing. I’m listening to books on Audible as I do all the dull things that need to be done. I belatedly discovered the unputdownable Parable of the Sower books by Octavia Butler, and a fantastic series called The Passage by Justin Cronin. Both are so, so good. So good that it’s humbling to experience all the emotions these writers have wrought with mere words. I love these characters and these stories. I love these authors who sucked me into a world that sometimes feels more real than the one I’m currently inhabiting.
I’ve also given my tired mind the freedom to wander by doing things with my hands. Years ago, I bought some chalk paint and transformed a beat-up coffee table into something lovely. I’ve started doing this again, finding battered furniture with good bones, and making it beautiful again. Next to writing, it’s the most deeply satisfying thing I’ve ever done. Like a book, there’s a beginning, middle and end. Ugly, transforming, transformed.
I’ve been listening to Anderson Cooper’s surprisingly helpful podcast about grief. I’ve been trying to understand grief’s power to derail and exhaust us. I still don’t know how to fix it or make it go away. I just know that some essential element of love and happiness is gone from my life right now, and it might be gone for a long time. And I must learn to live without it and find my way back to all the other things that once brought me joy. But it’s hard. So much harder than I expected.
On the other side of all this, I want to find the irritation I used to feel when something prevented me from writing, and the compulsion I felt to keep going for just a few more minutes when it was time to stop and do something else.
I want this back because I can’t be a writer if I’m not writing, and it doesn’t feel right to not be a writer, if that makes any sense.
So, I keep sifting through the dirt, trying to find those damn breadcrumbs, hoping they will eventually lead me back to the words.
In the meantime, there’s paint under my fingernails, and my garage is chock full of ugly furniture waiting for renewal.