As so often happens, I sit down to write and a random person wants to strike up a conversation. I figure I might as well hear this guy out, at least for a few minutes, because sometimes I can get a good story out of it.
I’ve guessed right.
Go ahead and try to tell people “I’m busy” or “trying to get some work done” or “on deadline.” This goes through some kind of internal translator, like a babbelfish, and after it goes through a few loop-de-loops, what they hear is “please tell me your life story” or “we are best friends now” or “why yes, I do give out free therapy.” I figure new writing material is the least I can expect as a fair trade for the imposition on my time.
This particular character who has wandered into my work zone is supposedly an Army ranger and combat medic. Do I have verification of this claim, no I do not, but then I could counterclaim that he was a circus clown or a bank teller and nobody would be the wiser.
After rambling a bit, he suddenly pops out with this idea that writing is hard, and there should be a writing school similar to ranger training.
WRITE A CHAPTER IN THE NEXT HOUR OR YOU’RE OUT!
Hmm, I say, that’s actually a really good idea. There’s your movie if you want to write your own screenplay.
We start elaborating on this together.
Apparently ranger school involves a lot of things like running up and down a hill in the jungle, or doing pull-ups for many hours. What would be the parallel for this in the world of notebooks and keyboards?
You’re sitting next to your friend, shackled together at the ankle. If you don’t meet your word count quota for the day, your friend dies.
You’re sitting at your keyboard with someone standing next to you, holding a gun to your head.
Okay, that probably doesn’t happen in real ranger school, but why not?
I have to admit, I’d watch this movie.
The truth is that the physical act of writing is easy enough that almost every adult and child in our culture can do it. Technically. People will write a thousand words just to give out a one-star product review. The madder they are, the more they’ll write, and heaven forfend if some restaurant doesn’t meet their expectations.
Something weird happens to interfere, and many of those who want to write start thinking that they can’t.
The point of a grueling experience like ranger school is that people sign up for it voluntarily because they’re looking for the biggest possible challenge. They want to find out if they’ve got the right stuff. They know they’ll come out the other side either fitter than they’ve ever been, or not. There’s no in-between state. Pass/fail.
It’s also over quickly.
Setting oneself up as a writer can be drawn out, dragged out over months and years. We look at someone like Henry Roth, who published a critically acclaimed novel at age 28, suffered writer’s block for 45 years, spent 15 years on his next book, and finally published again after a 60-year gap.
Are there any other careers that would torment people with visions of what might have been?
Someone who wanted a career of military service might be haunted by that sense of missed opportunity, but they could probably accept after sixty years that it wasn’t going to happen. Writing isn’t that way.
Carpenter’s block is probably a kind of tool. (Checking) Yes, and not only that, apparently it’s also a good thing in this little game called Minecraft.
A plumber with a block probably has a tool or some kind of chemical to drain it.
Other professions take obstacles in stride. What is it about writing that feels different?
What if there was in fact a school for it? What if there was a kind of boot camp that taught wannabe writers (and maybe other artists) how to deal with resistance? How to get around it?
When I sat down today, I didn’t know what I was going to write about. Really I wanted a nap. I figured it would be good discipline to show up, sit down, and see what happened. If all I did was edit and format a few pieces, that would be progress.
I physically sat down and a story came to me.
At this moment, the same wandering character is appealing for my attention from the next table. I’ve done my part for the community by giving this person fifteen minutes of my best listening skills, and now I feel justified in clocking out.
What I’ve done is to turn a distraction into a... something. An anecdote. I have a clear image in my mind of this character, a surf-talking old soldier who thinks that putting a shackle on your ankle might help you beat writer’s block. I have three pages of content. I have something that might eventually turn into something.
Maybe this same person has a list of stories that might turn into incredible action films. Maybe if he sat down and wrote up some of his personal experience, he could be a hit machine. Maybe he’ll go off and advertise a super hardcore writer’s workshop.
Maybe someone will read this and realize, all you really need to do is sit down and keep working until you’ve produced something, no drill instructor required.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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