When The Words Are Hard To Find

I CAN'T WRITE. I’m stuck or confused or distracted or, God-forbid, the big “d” word (in hushed tones: depressed).

There’s this real thing called “writer’s block”. Not that I’m self-diagnosing, but I do feel sort of blocked. It has been weeks since I last wrote anything I would consider posting.

Here’s the sucky part about being blocked, I always tend to settle for the poorer path, worst choice, easy way out. Like those days when I forget to take my lunch to work. Noontime comes and I can’t decide what to do--what sounds good. Taco Bell is close and cheap. Five minutes later I hate myself.

Politics is the Taco Bell of writing for me right now, and I hate myself for it. But it’s cheap and close; and gross, and disgusting. I’m not going there (at least today). 

Writer’s block has probably existed since the invention of writing, but the term itself was first introduced into the academic literature in the nineteen-forties, by a psychiatrist named Edmund Bergler. For two decades, Bergler studied writers who suffered from “neurotic inhibitions of productivity,” in an attempt to determine why they were unable to create—and what, if anything, could be done about it. After conducting multiple interviews and spending years with writers suffering from creative problems, he discarded some of the theories that were popular at the time. Blocked writers didn’t “drain themselves dry” by exhausting their supply of inspiration. Nor did they suffer from a lack of external motivation (the “landlord” theory, according to which writing stops the moment the rent is paid). They didn’t lack talent, they weren’t “plain lazy,” and they weren’t simply bored. So what were they?  --The New Yorker

This article from The New Yorker goes on to present findings of several studies that “found, unsurprisingly, that blocked writers were unhappy. Symptoms of depression and anxiety, including increased self-criticism and reduced excitement and pride at work, were elevated in the blocked group; symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as repetition, self-doubt, procrastination, and perfectionism, also appeared, as did feelings of helplessness and ‘aversion to solitude’—a major problem, since writing usually requires time alone.”

The good news for me is that I don’t write for living. In fact, I only do it for my own amusement, so to be “blocked” is only a personal frustration. But, I like to write and I especially like the phenonemon that when I’m in writing mode, I pay more attention to life. I’m looking for ideas. My sense of wonder is much higher.

There’s a lot of advice written on how to end writer’s block (probably written by someone who was blocked and decided they could break the block by writing a book on how to breakthrough writer’s block).


One method I’ve used often is to type the words of a writer you highly respect; to get in a flow. So, I’m going to do that here in case you’re still reading this and thus deserve a reward for your diligence. This is an excerpt from the beautiful book “Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry.

If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line - starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King's Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led - make of that what you will.

It is all a journey isn’t it?

There that's my one true sentence for the day.