Writer’s block sucks. It’s unfathomable to the non-writer and demoralizing for the writer. After all, you write because you love it, right? So what happens when that love of the work turns into something else or gets wrapped up in other feelings? A whole lot of nothing. I’m in the midst of a four-year run of this condition now, and it’s starting to eat away at my soul. Maybe blogging about it will help. I’ve done sillier things.

I should emphasize that the “block” I’m dealing with is personal in nature. I don’t get writer’s block on the job (i.e., for other people), except in rare cases. Writing for myself is something else. The needs of a customer are always known, or if not known, can be discerned by asking questions. I’m a much more difficult customer.

  • Do I know what I’m trying to accomplish?
  • Do I know who my audience is?
  • Will this work be engaging to the reader?
  • Is the work saying what I want it to say?

I don’t always have the answers to these questions, nor am I terribly confident when I answer them.

Ghosts from the past

Several years ago, I got into the habit of sharing one piece of creative writing with a lady friend on a daily basis. Part of the courtship ritual, as it were. However, the relationship did not go as hoped for, and so it ended.

The problem is that in the process of ending that relationship, I also yanked out a lot of the wiring that I used to write creatively for fun. Writing was something done for her. Being a creative writer was someone I was in that relationship. Writing after that brought me right back to the mental state I was in fresh out of the relationship: No, I don’t write anymore. That was something I did for her. That was a different life, a different person. Somewhere along the line, I made the mistake of using a real person as a “Muse,” and now find myself, years later, not wanting to return to the writing habit because it puts me back in the headspace I had when writing for that specific person.

Given the number of relationships I’ve screwed up over the course of 40+ years, you’d think I’d have the sense to separate the creator of the product from the recipient. But no, my subconscious juxtaposed the two in this case and decided that writing “for myself” was no longer possible.

It’s vexing, and a little sick-making, to be honest, because it’s not like real people are flawless or will never let you down. They will, just as I no doubt let down the person in question and others along the way or since. Indulging in a “muse” is a great way to short-circuit a professionally minded brain because when I have paying work, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike before getting to work. The work must be done, sit in front of the goddamned computer and crank out the prose. If you don’t, you don’t get paid and you don’t eat. QED, the writing gets done.

However, that’s business. Writing for oneself is a slightly different animal for me. I never felt confident (or good) enough to write fiction for a living. I was a little too addicted to things like eating and having a roof over my head to write stories for a living. I pay the bills by writing and editing content for others. Fiction or poetry became things that I wrote for myself, in my free time, when I felt like it.

So when you start connecting all these dots together, you can see how writer’s block can and will interfere with the idea of writing for pleasure. I write content for other people or organizations. And while I do enjoy the process, especially when the content has to do with human space exploration, I realize that the thoughts are not my own but the ideas of others. I settled for that sort of writing to pay the bills because I lacked the confidence to write stories for a living. I suppose if I had forced myself to earn my living writing fiction, I might have gotten better at the craft through sheer repetition, persistence, and practice.

Yet the daily practice stopped when I ended that relationship. I was writing for her, after all, and she was no longer part of my life. So then what?

Quitting drinking helped clear my head, mostly. Yet I still had this injury to my soul lingering the background. It’s like a mental limp, hobbling my ability to fully express myself, either because I felt that my reason for writing went away or because I lost confidence in the person who wrote because the writing (or I) was insufficient to keep the relationship going. In the process of breaking the relationship, I inadvertently broke something fundamental to my well-being as a human being. The recycled mantra in the head is akin to, The writing failed, I failed, and so I don’t write anymore.

I can appreciate the works of others–indeed, my reading has been voracious over the past few years–but I can’t contemplate my own work without a feeling of vertigo or seasickness. The person I was in that relationship was someone who wrote, and that person failed. I haven’t been able to become that person again, and that hurts. I need to fix this. I’m tired of hurting. : (

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