Writing…about not being able to write

imagesOh, what a vexing irony: to sit and type out words about a losing game of hide ‘n seek with words. I will certainly not be the final voice on finding a lost literary voice. It’s just that, well, I didn’t think it would happen to me. So soon at least.

Shit, I’m only fifty years old. I’d hoped this wouldn’t happen until I had left an entire generation agog over my mastery of linguistic flare, and deftly adroit word choice. This is what happens to the aging novelist with one good one under her belt but finds herself paralyzed producing a second. Not me! I’ve yet to be published. By that I mean, more than the occasional University research paper, blogging, and the guy with the cleverest quips in birthday cards. As a writer, I am reaching for more than the guy with the best Facebook posts.

Shit, I’m already fifty years old. Shouldn’t I have something significant to say by now? One would think that this well-earned silver crop of thinning hair and commensurate wrinkles might have shoveled a thing or two into the loading bay. This sagging, white ass is well deserved I say. It’s watery impression sadly shaped into my favorite writing chair.

So, what happens when the words dry up? When the notes that come from pen or strings or keys no longer woo, titillate or otherwise amuse? When, instead, they are the stale, reused, overused bag ‘o tricks of a modern hack? When nothing sings anymore, but mutters imperceptibly under its own muffled (bad) breath? When one becomes a caricature of oneself – a sorry lump of stigma buried under borrowed artistry?


Can good art descend as easily from the ordinary, unadorned lives we live at kitchen tables, card games, and board meetings as it does from our bungee jump moments? Does one’s life, in order to become pregnant with words needing midwifery, require the overheated backdrop of anger, anxiety or joy? Perhaps then the super cooled, glacial faces of fear, pain, doubt, foreboding, even despair? Can the altruistic and universal issue from us as easily when our feet are ablaze with the dance of heaven and running onward to new adventure as when they’re encased in the cement of toilsome drudgery?

 Men love when women laugh at their sorry ass jokes. I’m convinced that far too many women are far too polite as to give our jokes what they deserve – looks of disgust or grunts of disapproval. My wife still laughs at mine, oddly. I think, in part at least, it is because she’s often funnier than I am and feeds well off my fumbling attempts at humor. Mine is the bump and set. Hers the spike. Mine the missed lay-up. Hers the rim hang slam. She knows exactly what I’m about to answer when someone asks a question or tells me something either stupid or clever. If that was you, nothing personal.

My tricks are used up. Nothing surprises anymore. Little takes her by storm. This is okay in a good marriage. Not so much if one is the keynote speaker for a plenary address. Tell a bad joke to a packed house met by stony silence just once and you’ll never forget it (or so I’ve heard).

The flaccid, often noodle-y jokes that belch out of me these days are a good example of what I’m after here. To the uninitiated they may still speak or cause a chuckle or two. But, they’re not exactly earth-shattering stuff by any stretch. And every writer wants that – to be earth shattering, hugely entertaining, eternally perceptive, generously intuitive; all topped off with that orgasmic metaphor that leaves the reader with tousled hair and a far off look. We want to write that paragraph that causes readers to light one up afterwards.

I feel stuck, like the last dander of spring, clinging perniciously to the dandelion stalk refusing to admit summer. I’m that solitary bat hanging to the brick wall humming happily to myself while everyone else made it to Batman’s photo shoot an hour ago. Okay, so I exaggerate to make my point.

As a musician and songwriter, I’ve crossed this bridge before (there, see what I mean?) and what I’ve discovered is there are only three ways to overcome composing dry spells. One, write. Two, write. Three…well, you get my point. Best of all is when I’ve emerged from the songwriting dust heap I am always the better for it and have generally gleaned something helpful along the way.


So, here I am. I write to be a gooder writer, writing even gooderer stuff than ever before. It may feel awkward, like walking straight with one leg shorter than the other. But, at least it will be. I will have refused to be stifled by something, which, itself, refuses imprisonment. It barks insistently for release into the atmosphere it craves for its own freedom.

I’m not asking so much for the words as to dive deeper into the life from which those words await the pickaxe to dig them out. I don’t ask for inspiration as much as consternation that what comes has passed through the honing tapestry of a life, fully lived. I don’t ask for clever turn of phrase (well, that’s only partly true) as much as an honest churn of thought, where the ambivalence, arrogance, innocence and yearning that, together, form my life, blend and cohere into a face and a name to call my own.

Did I mention I’m only fifty?

Images shamefully taken from here

5 thoughts on “Writing…about not being able to write

  1. Why not follow the steps of the master. Take a trip to the desert of not publishing and writer free write for a while to just let words come. Let it be gibberish if necessary, uncensored by expectations of what you should write. Perhaps there is something new waiting to happen in you. Let it. Sometimes when the words are lost it is because we have begun being in our heads instead of listening within. Listen and write to listen.

    1. This has been resurrected in recent years and distilled for contemporary audiences by Julia Cameron as “morning pages.” Stream of consciousness writing that, in time, takes more shape because we don’t seek to give it any.

      1. I m not sure we don’t seek to give it any shape. I think that it is a listening form, a way to get our conscious mind into the back seat so we can hear at a deeper level. I know that that is what happens for me.

  2. krazykiwi

    Reblogged this on keep Ithaca in your mind and commented:
    I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard n a long while — thank you Rob, for your mastery of linguistic flare, and deftly adroit word choice. And for your comedic genius, as well. Robin Williams, move over! Namaste, AAM

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