Writer’s Block

I’m not sure if it was a surfeit of Christmas turkey, or a dram too much of that Glenlivet Malt Whiskey I discovered cowering in one corner of the locked liquor cabinet at our local supermarket just before the holidays, but I’ve felt decidedly lethargic about doing anything remotely creative over the last couple of weeks, as readers of this internet tome will probably have noticed.

There’s been the odd occasion I’ve advanced on the keyboard, determined to punch some eye-catching, intellectually stimulating, thoughts onto the screen, but usually I’ve tiptoed away again, to the kitchen or drinks cabinet, after ten minutes of futile thumb-twiddling.

It was then I remembered Uncle George.

Two or three years ago, during a period of similar mental torpor, I conducted an experiment. Experts are divided over the very concept of writer’s block. While some agree that writing is an art form requiring a degree of intellectual stimulus at best diffuse, and frequently absent, others mock the idea and insist it is never more than mental laziness.

I determined to discover which of these opposing viewpoints was accurate, so on a day I felt nothing but a totally blank and unproductive mindset, I sat down and began typing individual thoughts as they staggered back and forth through the portals of my mind.

The result, dragged from Sparrow Chat’s archives and barely more than blown free of dust, is set out below:

“WRITER’S BLOCK”

I’m confused.

According to the ‘experts’, who are supposed to know about these things, “writer’s block” doesn’t exist. It’s just an excuse for a lack of self-discipline. They say if one sits down at the keyboard, punching away at whatever comes to mind, eventually something worthwhile will appear on the page.

I’m not sure I agree with that. After all, that’s just what I’m doing now. But, is it worthwhile?

Having completed one book this year, and close to finishing another, I’m keen to plan a third; or, at least get some thoughts down on paper. But try as I might, the ideas remain seductively closeted in the far recesses of my mind, stubbornly refusing to vacate the shadows and venture forth into the sunlight of inspiration.

So, I look for reasons not to write, for what is the point if I have nothing to say? Sure, I owe Uncle George from England a letter, and I have outstanding emails clamoring to be answered, but that’s not what real writing is about. Is it?

Uncle George was never ‘into’ computers. I wish he was. Somehow, it’s so much easier just to type a few lines and click on: ‘send’, rather than laboriously print-out, search for an envelope, remember the address, – “What the deuce was his zip code?” – then realize the last airmail stamp was used three months ago to post that pension return to the British Inland Revenue, who really ought to have amended their records by now, but still insist I live at 66, Waterworks Road, South London, despite my being a U.S. permanent resident for the last two years.

Uncle George was always considered a bit peculiar by other members of the family. Of course, they were all very stuck up and traditional – church every Sunday morning and don’t use the front parlor except on special occasions – you know the sort. Uncle George would have nothing to do with them. He always insisted he only went to church once, to be christened at the age of three months, and that was only because he had no choice in the matter. Not that he was an atheist or anything. He just despised clergymen. All clergymen. And the higher up the official ladder, the more he despised them. You soon learned not to mention the Archbishop of Canterbury when Uncle George was around, unless that is, you wanted a right ear-bashing.

The relatives all said it was being a bachelor that sent him peculiar. Aunt Bessie – she’s my mother’s eldest sister, who wore her hair pulled back in a bun, so tight my father used to say it was the only thing that stopped her teeth falling out – said it was no wonder he never married, as no decent woman would be able to stand him for longer than five minutes at a time. But then, not six months after she married my Uncle Percival he ran off and joined a bunch of mercenaries fighting somewhere in Africa and was never heard from again, so perhaps she wasn’t the one to talk.

Of course, when Uncle George sold his house and moved onto a canal boat, that really set their tongues clacking. It probably wasn’t one of his better ideas, given that he was seventy-six, with a gammy leg and one eye that could only discern a brick wall from two feet away in bright sunlight. His other eye was alright though, and Uncle George reckoned he could see as well with one and a bit eyes, as others could with two. Even when he fell off the gangplank and into the canal for the fourth time, all within three weeks of moving onto the boat, he was still insisting his sight was impeccable as the two burly men from the social services department were carrying him up the canal bank to the waiting ambulance. Not that he’d hurt himself, you understand. It was the relatives again; interfering, as always.

Aunt Bessie worked for the social services before she retired, and still knew a few people in the department. Nothing embarrassed the family more than Uncle George living on the canal, and I once overheard Aunt Bessie telling my mother that, ‘…it reduced us all to the level of gypsies and tinkers.’ Consequently, when the local police rang to say Uncle George had been hauled from the canal for the second time in a week, Aunt Bessie went searching for her ‘professional contacts’.

That was all ten years ago now. At the time, I didn’t think Uncle George would survive long after being forcibly removed to the nursing home. He was always so independent, and hated the idea of being penned against his will. He always said he’d die in his own home, and if he couldn’t do that he’d jump off a cliff, or into the nearest river, rather than fade ignominiously away in a hospital bed.

In the end, he did none of those things. Instead, he married the woman who owned the nursing home. That was one in the eye for the family, especially when he started taking the other inmates for trips on his canal boat.

The relatives never mention Uncle George now. Aunt Bessie still hasn’t forgiven her ‘contact’ for recommending that particular nursing home, though my father once hinted it was only envy, because the woman Uncle George married was very wealthy, and Uncle George once let slip that, after their deaths, all the money was willed to the RSPCA, and the family would see none of it.

Still, I always got on well with him, and just so long as he’s happy, I guess that’s all that matters.

Perhaps I will write the old boy a few lines. After all, sitting here staring at a blank page isn’t very productive. I think I’ve proved the so-called ‘experts’ wrong.

Huh! No such thing as “writer’s block”.

Blah!

Now, what the deuce was his zip code?

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4 Replies to “Writer’s Block”

  1. Bully on for old Uncle George!
    My mum just got married to a millionaire at the tender age of 72, and my gramma took to the road playing drums with old Hellboy Grampa playing electic guitar at about that age, too. Yes, sadly, these are my role models for aging.

    Re. writer’s block: i dunno the proper end to this debate, but i think most people’s brains are working in a somewhat continuous state, even if some of the work is weft instead of warp.

    I’ve seen a thread of thought started as an adolescent mature in the deep underbelly of the unconsious and emerge completed as part of an overall pattern of observations in middle age; and i’ve heard other creative people say the same, although most expect to ‘produce’ a lot sooner than a decade or two.

    But since most people’s minds are constantly taking in information, and probably a lot more than they realize, i believe it is worth taking down dictee from the intellect in some sort of disciplined form every day.

    My routine is to start out by writing ten observations, even if it’s only of the salt shaker in front of me. Then i try to write one poem by searching for a theme amongst the observations written a couple of years ago. And from that thought, i try to write a paragraph defending and developing it rationally.

    It may not seem like a lot (this usually takes about an hour and a LARGE mug of coffee), but if you do the math it quickly becomes apparent that it’s easy to find inspiration from 300 observations, 30 poems and 30 logical arguments every month.

    I burn much more than i keep, eventually (the cutoff point is about 25 years… if i can’t make sense of a thought after that, it’s incomprehensible) but so far i’ve got 122 diaries, 147 (reasonably good) poems, and five books of prose.

    I hope this discipline might be helpful to anyone wanting to try it.

  2. For someone with writer’s block, RJA, I sure got to know Uncle George and Aunt Bessy. Well done.
    As to me, I find a spot of poetry helps, sometimes.
    As does, like Anan, some observations, one time I forced myself to describe the ever changing bay in front of my window every single morning for a month in a complete paragraph. A great exercise.
    Other times it’s a spot of conversation overheard at the local coffee house – I have a novel based on a woman humming a line to an old Ella Fitzgerald number (“and worship the trousers that cling to him”) – naw, not what you’re thinking at all……:>)
    Even describing the contents of my own suitcase can set me off sometimes…..
    We are creators – prone to freezing periodically. I believe.
    XO
    WWW

  3. Uncle George – what a sweetie – one of my kind of people I suspect! Thanks for the introduction, RJ.

    As for writer’s block – well, I’m not a writer in the sense that you are. I challenge myself to write a daily blog in a particular specialised field, but my writing’s a more factual, reporting style than creative, as a rule. I still struggle for inspiration sometimes though. I find trawling the internet, especially in places unconnected with my own areas of interest, often sparks an idea.

    My husband’s trick is to stick a pin in any written material, choose a phrase – eg. “these windows are dirty” and start writing with that as a guide. We both tried this one time, using that phrase. I came up with a couple of sentences, he with a short story. Sigh. From my knowledge of astrology I suspect I know why this happened, and don’t feel too bad about it. Horses for courses!

    Thanks for the other ideas, fellow commentators. I’m currently in need of inspiration. It must be a New Year thing.

    🙂

  4. Anan – a Very Happy New Year, and no finer New Year’s gift than to have you surface on Sparrow Chat. Ah, such self-discipline! Alas, I sit down to write and expect to change the world. No wonder I’m consistently frustrated! I do find, though, that – as happened with “Uncle George” – freeing the mind and allowing it to wander willy-nilly, often produces my best results. I seldom know at the beginning just what the end will be. Occasionally, I’ll write the end first, but not very often.

    WWW – I’m pleased you liked Uncle George and Aunt Bessie. Both are fictitious, yet based on character-types well-known to most of us, I’m sure.

    What on earth do you keep in your suitcase? 😉

    Twilight – a writer is a writer is a writer. A daily blog is a demanding challenge and from what I’ve seen of yours (though I admit to not understanding all the astrological stuff) leaves me in no doubt of your abundant ability in that direction. As you rightly say: ‘horses for courses’.

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