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"They've got your number, remember your name, and ultimately tame themselves."

My grandson Roman, who turned eight last week, has grown into an aspiring writer. My son Wilder reports that he's been struggling with intermittent writer's block and asked if I might give him a gift of insight into this most distressing element of every writer's existence, so here goes:

Of course writers only come in the aspiring form, because aspiration forms the soul of even very experienced writers, who seem eternally no better than their next production. Writing brings no residuals, no resting on past laurels, not in the writer's mind, which endlessly roams ahead. A finished piece does not continue as a work in process, but extinguishes the fire that forged it shortly after it's finished. Finished pieces hold little interest for the creator, and the writer might not very well remember the details about even a piece widely recognized as a signature one. Writing serves as an extractive effort, intended to discard. Not a building up activity creating a body of work, but a disposal activity intending to make space for something else. Writers leave the critics and fans to accumulate. The writer eliminates.

The urge to create seems most similar to the urge to take a poop.
There's a definite rhythm to creation, and like any rhythm, it's prone to disruption. Some days, it comes without a second thought. Other days, no amount of deliberation produces anything. A thinker sitting forlornly on the pot might be no more productive than one sitting on stone. Results sometimes seem beyond his humbling reach. The system maintains its own flow. Certainly, a blocked writer might employ certain diuretics in hopes of encouraging output, but such prompts cannot become a steady diet or a daily habit, for these fail to adequately replace genuine inspiration. They might reliably induce output, but artificially-prompted results tend to be crap and the writer intends to shit golden bricks, not bullshit.

Blocks might anchor any great writer. People who never even think of writing never experience writer's block, so the malady doesn't bedevil those who don't scribble for their existence. The scribbler might imagine himself growing in literary authority, daily increasing his ability to produce on demand, but he only very rarely ever feels as though he commands such skill. Writing's not so much a skill, anyway, but an ongoing attempt to fill a bottomless void with words. Bakers fill their voids with bread. Paranoids, with dread. Writers, with words which some days refuse to emerge. The experienced writer always feels as though these episodes mean that he's done, that he's somehow suddenly become permanently redundant, that his ongoing unique contributions are over. The rookie writer has little to lose when blocked, for he was shocked that he ever managed to even spit word one into his void. A block for him serves as confirmation that he should have chosen to become an insurance agent after all. But the experienced writer might more reasonably experience a curious validation. If he wasn't the genuine article, he would not have accumulated so much experience feeling blocked. He's been blocked before and will doubtless find himself blocked again. He's arrived home then.

Unless your passion genuinely resides in insurance agency, some patience seems necessary. Not the easy patience accompanying extending tolerance toward another, but the kind that only comes from extending it toward your own, apparently recalcitrant self. Writers have become notorious for their obtuse habits and obvious quirks. Many are remembered more as skilled self-distracters than writers: drinkers, philanderers, extreme sportsman, lowlifes. When unable to extrude, writers can become rude characters, the sorts of players others writers love describing. They're hiding from their gift through the times when it seems to be hiding from them. Nobody knows when that spark might return, and writers exhibit little faith through those frightening times. They seem to lose their identities then, taking up some peg-legged alternative. They remain writers, still, temporarily or permanently blocked from producing. As long as they don't become insurance agents, they'll remain writers whatever else they might do when feeling blocked.

Properly rigged, blocks provide a mechanical advantage allowing heavier lifts, but the threading proves confusing. Some algebra's involved and any able sailor just seems to understand the underlying physics of it, like my third grade-educated grandfather could calculate roof slopes in his head. The writer leverages his blocks. He might momentarily despair over the weight of his loads, but he somehow knows that he's not completely alone with his dilemma. It might be that underlying inspiration's merely spooling up, a capacitor at heart, accumulating enough of a spark to get everything started again. It might be busy blocking threatening defenses, not distracted or abandoning, but busy providing eventual mechanical advantage. I could counsel you to rest easy when blocked, but I understand what foolish advice that provides. Hide out instead. Set your head of hair on fire! Make an absolute fool of yourself then, for what you learn when playing the fool might spool you up for more and better when the mechanical advantage kicks in. But please remember, you were not producing a lasting catalogue before you found yourself blocked, but chucking away your daily production. Its purpose was its production. No lasting legacy ever was involved.

Push it if you must. Flee from it if you just can't bear to sit still through it. However you cope with feeling Blocked might constitute precisely the proper response. It, too, shall eventually pass, however painfully constipated you feel. The flow was always inexorable, a form of relentless gravity, and no writer ever levitates beyond its grasp for long. Even short bouts seem endless and unlikely to ever end, but blocks remain your friends. They've got your number, remember your name, and ultimately tame themselves.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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