My daughter had her first bout of the flu in first grade and subsequently stayed home from school for a few days. Apparently sometime that morning I'd referred to her virus as "a bug,"
for when she called her grandmother later in a sympathy-grab she emphasized, "Grandmom, I have the flu AND the bug; it's a really bad
case of the terribles!" My mother and I were in stitches over her doubly enthusiastic declaration, and from then on, "the terribles" evolved to encompass any general malaise.
Sometimes I'm like this in my writing, though admittedly without the flu-like symptoms. I'm just all stopped up, a sort of literary and laryngeal lethargy. It's officially dubbed "writer's block" but that term conjures up comical images: barricaded by SWAT teams, writers riot in the streets screaming Y'all is indeed a word! Or perhaps a writer's block is a neighborhood where one can live only if prominently published. It also calls to mind a 2x4 wooden obstruction between pen and paper, or a computer that refuses to start. It feels like the fuel pump is clogged; it stutters and gasps, and eventually goes nowhere at all.
I pick up my laptop and end up surfing the web or playing mah-jongg instead of writing. My editor calls and asks how an article is progressing. I scramble for time. "It's coming, just slowly." I flinch from inevitable next query: "What are you stuck on?" and I succumb to the reality. "Well... I've got the title down, and a general idea of where I want to go with this. It's a really bad case of the terribles," I whine, but she fails to see the humor in it. After all, she has her own deadlines to meet.
Still, it's just not fair! Do people in other professions get blocked? Well, of course plumbers do, but they have Drano and mean looking things they call snakes. But can you imagine going for a root canal and having your dentist say, "I'm sorry, my dentition is in shambles; can we reschedule?" I wonder if bankers get blocked. "No withdrawals today; we're all congested in here. Sorry, come back tomorrow." Wouldn't Wall Street have a heyday with that one?
Writer's block, this literary laryngitis, is akin to stage fright, like inexplicably spacing out on the next dance steps or guitar notes. And there's the fear factor. They won't like me, I'm philologically challenged or just plain boring. My words will offend, or worse, will wash up on the beach as literary detritus. Oh, the naughty-nothings and self-defeating lies we whisper into our own ears! I know where the nagging naysayer's voice originates, and it surely isn't from Goodness or God. It's the mocking opponent in all of us, the negative one that says "Don't run; you'll fall. Don't try, you'll fail." Doubt and pessimism are but ammunition in the enemy's arsenal, so I'll draw my strength from The Truth instead. If the pen is truly mightier than the sword, then I'll beat this thing yet! I repeat this thought like a mental mantra.
I've been stuck for quite awhile now, unable to even move my hands across the keyboard with the usual speed. Perhaps my computer is infected with a virus, so I'll take pen in hand. Come to think of it, I do miss the velvety feel of a fluid instrument rolling over watermarked linen ideas, dreams, agonies and prayers flowing from mind to wrist and
finally paper, leaving myself exposed but in a good way. Yet even writing the old-fashioned way, I jump from A to Q and then back to F, my mind stream-screaming, ideas flying at me like confetti. Then just as quickly, I'll go mute. Lately the weeks have seemed like eons and I'm stuck in the muck of life, unable to write and occasionally at a total loss for words in any forum. I'm sinking in the quicksand of creativity and being sucked down faster than I can shout "Word!"
But I must grab a branch and pull myself out and up. Maybe there awaits someone who could use a loan of hope right now. If my experiences can encourage someone or prompt a smile, ease someone's despair or even spur a dialogue about God, life after loss, or spiritual grappling and growth, then I've done alright. I muse that it took me six long years to compile my stories and now with a looming recession so deep that books might become luxuries, it's nearly published. Sometimes we just have to laugh at ourselves, and the eccentricities of life! Nevertheless, if I'm sharing my gift with others and pointing to God along the way, then I'm where I should be. And if I'm not, Creator will move me to where He wants.
And I'll meditate on it. Oddly, this doesn't occur to me until I've exhausted every writer's trick to unblock. In a place deep down, like
a disposal for old inkjet cartridges, I forget that God cares about my most trifling ailments and perplexities. Yes, He's in the big things, but He
is also in the smaller ones, and will help me with whatever I ask in His name. Too often I forget that I'm invited to bring all my troubles to Him. He, the Original Author of all that is, pulls me through even the worst cases of the terribles. He won't necessarily make it painless, but He can make it possible.
I flick my computer on, open a new document and pray for guidance. "Abba, my life-editor," I pray, "if You want my words read, please help me craft them." Scripture assures us that if we ask for wisdom, He delights in granting it to us. My fingers begin playing a lively sonata on the keyboard. The terribles are, for now, behind me.
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