Have You Tried a Plunger?
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
On Wednesdays, rather than rehashing a news story, I reprint one of my old columns. I've got 15 years' worth of the damn things, so there's no point in letting them sit moldering in a box in my garage. At least not the good ones. This one is from 5 years ago.
Some days I hate being a writer. Days like today. Not one of those "oh crap it's two hours before deadline, and I don't have a topic" day. That's the story of my
No, I mean the days where I get an overwhelming sense of writer's block. Only it's not writer's block. Writer's block is where a writer can't think of anything to write. They are literally stuck for an idea. Entire books have been written about overcoming writer's block. But that's not what I have.
I have Writer's Overflow.
Writer's Overflow is what you get when you have 10 gallons of ideas trying to get through a one quart pipe. Everything trickles slowly out, and the ideas just build up.
These moods are the bane of many writers. (By "many writers," I mean "me, but I don't want to sound like some lone weirdo.")
We ("I") get overwhelmed with the urge to write. Nothing in particular. We ("I") just want to put pen to paper and write about whatever comes to our ("my") minds.
A lot of writers go through this. It happens when we realize we've missed the best times to be a writer. Not the time in our own lives. The best times in history. The old guard. The writers who chomped on stogies and drank beer while they satisfied their urge to write, banging away on old Underwood typewriters.
Writers like Hemingway who drank heavily, traveled to exotic countries, drank some more, ran with bulls, drank more, caught giant fish in the Caribbean, and lived wild, drunken, hedonistic lives, hanging out with other wild, drunken, hedonistic writers.
Writers who glamorized the art of writing and made it a noble and romantic profession. That is, if your idea of glamor is smelly cigar-and-beer breath and hangovers that could kill a horse. In that case, my college years were the height of my glory, and I didn't even realize I was a writer then.
Now it has all been ruined by health nuts who think smoking is bad, by doctors who claim we need our livers, and by Ernest Hemingway who killed himself in a fit of depression. Maybe I can do without the hangovers, and I can definitely do without the suicidal tendencies, but I miss my cigars.
And I still have Writer's Overflow.
So I try to fix it by going to a bookstore. I buy books in the hopes that I'll be inspired. I want to find THE book, the one that puts me on the right path. The book that opens up the floodgates, so my ideas will come flowing out like. . . like. . . things that flow fast.
I need that book pretty badly.
I just figure out which book I want. A book about writing, or by a particular writer, or on an interesting subject. Then I spend $50, and I'm overcome with guilt and buyer's remorse, which promptly makes me forget my Writer's Overflow. Problem solved! It especially helps if I buy a journal.
I hate journals.
Journals are nothing more than fancy notebooks — a sheaf of paper wrapped in leather You can buy them without the leather at the office supply store for $1.89, but they're $25 at a bookstore. You're supposed to record your thoughts and ideas in them. And I usually do, for a while.
I write about deep philosophical ideas ("Could Tony the Tiger beat up Smokey the Bear?"), interesting things that happen ("Dear Diary, I saw the cutest outfit at the mall!"), or raw, visceral emotions ("I really hate journals!")
And since Writer's Overflow strikes me more than I care to admit, I have purchased countless journals in countless failed attempt at the unblocking process (actually, just seven).
My real loathing of journals stems from the fact that I'm very organized. Once I start a topic in a journal, I can't change it. I can never just have a journal of random writings. It has to be about a particular topic, like daily observations or my favorite beers and cigars. But the problem is I never write in the journal more than five or six times.
And once I write start the journal, it's ruined. It can never be used for anything else. But I can't get rid of it either, because I might want to use it again. Besides, it has 149 other clean pages. I even tried tearing out the offending pages once. But then the journal was tainted, , so I still couldn't use it.
Which means I'm still stuck with the same old problem, and no way to fix it.
Maybe I'll give beer and cigars another try. They can't be any worse for me than when my wife finds out I spent another fifty bucks at the bookstore.
Update: A few years after I wrote this column back in December 2004, I discovered Moleskine (mole-uh-SKEEN-uh) notebooks, the most wonderfulest notebook in the entire world. Problem solved. I've purchased and filled 7 or 8 of them in the last few years, and I carry several, depending on what I need to write about. So if you're looking for a Christmas gift for me, a graphic ruled small hard cover Moleskine will do the trick.
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