I can write anywhere, at any time. It was a skill I developed early in college. If I had an hour between classes and I knew I had to study that night, I found myself a bench or a nook in a building and I wrote for the hour. The skill developed to the point where I could write in the five minutes between classes. I wasn’t producing great work, but that’s what revision was for when larger blocks of time presented themselves. My friends say I’m one of the most productive writers they know. That’s why.
However, I’m not the most empathetic. While developing my writing habits, I also developed disdain for writer’s block and those who said they were in its throes and couldn’t get out. It’s the same kind of a disdain that healthy people sometimes develop toward those who complain about illnesses, or the intolerance some people who have never been out of work feel toward the less fortunate who are drawing unemployment. “It’s not that you can’t write,” I’ve many a freshman writing student. “It’s that you don’t want to write.”
Surely part of my disdain was due to the fact that when I was a student, I never took the summers off, and that trend continued when I started teaching. In the beginning of my career, I was teaching part-time so taking on summer classes was a necessity that became a habit. When I landed a full-time job, I still taught in one summer session and worked on my courses for the following year in the next. I never really left the classroom. Instead, I wrote around it.
Two summers ago, a friend of mine, a poet, was taking his first summer off to work on his book. We met late in June for a drink, and when I asked him how the book was coming, he flinched. “I haven’t worked on it,” he admitted, sheepishly holding up a book of short stories. “I’m getting a lot of reading done though.” He said he couldn’t understand it. He had all this time, and he couldn’t write. I told him, with my usual empathy and sensitivity toward this particular disorder, to leave the book with me, go home, sit his ass in a chair, and get to work.
I'm sure you’ve figured out where this is going.
This summer, as recompense for working a semester in an interim administrative position, I gave myself three full months to work on a novel. I was going to teach an online course, but except for that, the summer was mine, and I’m here to report that now, in August, I’ve completed all of six pages. No new short stories. Not a line of poetry.
Writer’s block feels like depression, another friend once told me. When you’re depressed, everything you are is still inside you, but there’s this giant blob sitting on your personality, your will to work, your enjoyment of hobbies. The blob holds you down and covers time and energy in a sickly green cast and they both just drain away. I understood about the depression. I have empathy for his depression. I just never believed it about WB.
Now I’m here to tell you that, except for the green cast, what my friend described has been my summer of not-writing.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve started this blog now. I’ve been toying with doing so for a couple of years, but I always had too much else to write. Suddenly, that’s not a problem. I’m not depressed, and I won’t insult people undergoing that terrible illness by comparing my block to their woes. So, I’m taking my own advice. I’m putting my ass in the chair and writing something I’ve wanted to write.
By the way, I mentioned my writer’s block to my friend, the poet, when he dropped by last week. He chuckled, but there was no disdain in it. He’s kinder and more empathetic than that. Qualities I should work on. After all, I have the time.