January 9, 2015

Dad, professor, writer and ... uh, something

I’m a congenital writer.

Some people write because their third-grade teacher threatened to send them back to kindergarten if they didn’t finish their essay. For others, like me, the taskmaster is deep in their brain. We don’t write when we have to, we just have to write.

Which makes my predicament worse. I have writer’s block. For the past few months, I’ve dawdled, surfed the Web and pretended I had more important things to do rather than channeled my thoughts through the keyboard.

Oh, I’ve churned out the necessary reports, comments to students and emails that go along with being a college professor. I’ve even spent days agonizing through a research paper that should have taken a few hours. But the cathartic release that congenital writers long for wasn’t there.

I know writer’s block all to well. For 25 years, I made my living piping prose from my brain to my fingertips as a newspaper journalist. Writer’s block is common in newsrooms. You see it in the glazed eyes of the reporter who paces the office and refills his coffee cup before it is empty. It was so universal that we would commonly talk about it or even implore “I’m blocked!. Someone help me out here.”

When I was the editor, the someone was me. My prescription usually was to assign an emotion-fueling feature story. The best story is told by the person who lives it. The young woman who honors her mother by volunteering in the cancer ward. The youth with a deep passion for skateboarding. The old vet still haunted by memories.

As a reporter, you only have to repackage those stories. The “lede” jumps out at you somewhere during the interview and you find yourself rushing back to the keyboard to let the words flow.

Dam broken. Writer’s block cured – for now.

My daughter, Gillian, is also a professional writer and also suffering from writer’s block. Neither of us has now has a kindly editor to throw us a feature-story bone. But when we talked about it at Christmas, we devised our own plan.

Each of us will write a weekly essay on the same topic and post it on this blog. We will be forced to write, block or not.

This week’s topic was as simple as it was effective: Writers writing about writer’s block.

I think it is working. So I can say this with guarded optimism:

More to come…