By Mike Maddaloni on Sunday, June 05, 2016 at 08:24 PM with 5 comments
A few days ago I experienced something I never have before in my life. And looking back now, that was ok.
I had writer's block.
Over the last decade of blogging I have grown to love writing. What started out as cranking out a few paragraphs for my first dozens of posts here at The Hot Iron has grown to a passion for writing out – ok printing, but on paper – what I have sketched out and organized in my head and then type up to post. This is a similar approach I take with writing for my day job, as well as guest posts I have made on other blogs and sites.
As I write this in the first week into June of 2016, I look back and I did not post anything on the blog during the month of May, making for one of the longest recent stretches for me. Where I can say with confidence I did a lot of other things over the past month, both professionally and personally, I did not spend any “me” time to write. With that as a cloud over my head (ok, a thin cloud, but sun-blocking nonetheless) I tried to force the issue and do some writing.
A window of opportunity presented itself, with a meeting being canceled during noontime, and I saw this as my chance to get in some writing. I grabbed my notebook, pen, and headed for one of the few local Starbucks where I have written much of what I have written in the last year. After pouring a little whole milk in my grande dark roast I spotted an open seat at the tall table where I like to sit, put my stuff down, took a sip as I opened my notebook... and just stared at the blank page.
And I stared for what seemed like an eternity. I had a couple of topics to choose from, however nothing seemed to go from my brain to my hand to my pen. I even tried to go back and look at something I had started previously, and simply X'ed it out writing “trash” over it. Trying harder to focus didn't work either, as my mind was more focused on the sounds of the espresso machine and Frappuccino® blender, not to mention the people walking outside of the store. I was besides myself as I had been able to focus while sitting at this very same table where in the past the other 5 stools were occupied by police officers and I was able to tune them out! Realizing I had spent about 40 minutes and was only able to choke out not even 1 page of something I haven't looked back on yet, I closed my notebook, grabbed my coffee and made my way back to the office.
Not My Time
As I sauntered back to the office, frustration segued to reality as it came to me – this was not the time to try to write. Where everything else lined up into place – an hour of time, dark roast available brewed and not as a pour over – the one thing that was not ready was my brain. I had too many things on my mind, everything from the work I had to go back to when I returned to the office as well as everything else going on in my life. Forcing it right then and there wasn't going to change the situation, so I just needed to find another time to do it. Like right now, several days later, where the words are flowing faster than I am able to type them.
In the end I simply need to ride out writers block. And that phrase – ride out – came to me as well as I was walking back to the office, where the only real thing I was concerned with was avoiding panhandlers and other pitch people on the sidewalks. Of course my brain, which was schooled in 80's rock music, quickly dropped a needle on an old REO Speedwagon album, playing “Ridin' The Storm Out” over and over as I wrote this. However unlike the other day, the song served as an inspiration and not an impediment.
Deconstructing a Writer's Block
Over the years I certainly wouldn't say every time I sat down to write was an ideal time. This one time was the worst of them all. No beating myself up over this “lost” 40 minutes is necessary either. Had it not been for it, I wouldn't have written what you are reading now, or thought of that REO Speedwagon song, or gotten myself psyched up to write some more. The creative process can't always be controlled.
If you're not familiar with the song in my head, you can watch the video embedded below, or if you can't see it you can click on this link to view it on YouTube. Interestingly, this video was recorded on my 18th birthday.
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
I’ve found myself going through a dry spell as well. (Although I attribute mine to a couple big (and wonderful) life changes. (Married last year, daughter born six weeks ago).
One of the things that has prevented me from writing is actually Twitter. When I have an idea, I just spit out the quick tweet, and then I feel satisfied that the idea is published. I believe the rise of Twitter and the downfall of blogging has a co-relation. Certainly many other bloggers have come across this in their writing/publishing.
Now when an idea comes across my brain, I try to capture that idea into a blog post draft, instead of immediately posting it to twitter. But then another problem arises of having too many blog post drafts, because I feel the need that blog posts have to be longer to get better Google rankings.
Reading Dave Winer’s Scripting.com blog always inspires me to just simply post the blog post right away—even if it’s not a long post.
Hey Matt - As a fellow blogger and Dad of 2 girls… congrats!
I also agree with you on Twitter. I started my blog at the end of 2006 and didn’t really start tweeting until the end of 2008. Many of my early blog posts were short, and would have been something that I, like you, would have boiled down to 140 characters.
I’ve been calling this parental shell shock. Between work and parenting there are times when I finally have a quiet moment to write where I sit there for a while in a stupor trying to figure out what to do next. I usually have a list of topics that I’ve been waiting for time to get to and it can take me 20 or 30 minutes to prioritize them and get a few ideas going before I can figure out which one to do first.
For me I don’t force it and keep thinking until things get linear enough to write. I’ve heard other people just start writing what’s in their head and usually they throw away 90% of it but once they have the good 10% they are back in action.
Hey John - Yes, the kids can get in the way of creativity sometimes… and sometimes they can be an inspiration, especially for topics. That being said, it’s a little hard to type when someone is jumping on your lap!
As a blogger who has ridden out writer’s block quite a few times, I’d like to say that it’s usually because you don’t have anything more you want to say, or your mind is not in the right place. What I do is take a break for a few hours, or even the rest of the day. Do whatever it is you do to relax, instead of racking your brains trying to find something to write about. When you come back to it, the words may probably just start flowing out.