What To Write When You Don’t Know What To Write

I’m not accustomed to thinking I have writer’s block, but then I also wasn’t accustomed to thinking that when I wake up at 5:40am multiple mornings in a row and strip off sweat-soaked fleece pajamas it’s because I might be entering The Change. It feels more like being corked up than blocked, because the pressure to uncork exists and yet what feels like the provocative nature of everything I want to write about is making me so cautious that I’m no longer able to fool myself into writing about the safe harbor stories I’ve relied on for more than 13 years.

Even more strange to me is how you’d think – I’d think – that fodder for what to write piles up faster and to greater heights at the end of the year. The quantity of listicles outnumber their own length and relate to everything: the best, the worst, the top 10, the bottom 5, predictions, resolutions, regrets. And then there’s the news – guns, planes, police, football, death, birth. And travel. And holidays. And the year in review.

Still, none of this has made it any easier for me to write in the last few weeks. The ideas captured in piles of scrap paper and digital notes in my digital devices’ cloud don’t even overlap with the usual subject matter suspects. I’ve known every day that I’ve been a writer that the trope of being an open book because you write what reads to others as being personal is, itself, a deceptive and superficial critique. But the mixture of compulsion, danger and desire I’m feeling to press beyond the break walls I’ve built lead me to know that in 2015, something is going to have to give and it’s going to take courage.

4 thoughts on “What To Write When You Don’t Know What To Write

  1. I think you are 100% correct, Jeff. I find I have nothing to add and your affirmation is a great boost.

    As for the 5:40am, I wish I was kidding. The clock I look at when it happens is actually about six minutes fast so it’s more like 5:34am but yes, it is precisely at the same time every morning, or it was. It stopped. I’m actually pretty far from that change, for better or worse, but I was in such denial! I was sure it was because I was sleeping in fleece pjs with two comforters on top of me in the middle of the summer. It took another similarly aged woman to say, “Uh, Jill? Those are night sweats, honey.”

  2. Good morning Jill,

    You tapped the central factor with your final word: courage.

    Writer’s block, when it exists, is fear; fear of looking the fool or making people angry and not being liked.

    I’ve long thought that any writer must be prepared, stealing one of those shared nightmare scenarios, to walk down the center of main street starkers.

    You may also be be experiencing a malady more common 21st century writers:topic overload. I’ve never been in a place where I didn’t know what to write, only not knowing what to write first. There is so much wrong in the world, so much that demands attention, to hijack another analogy, there are just too many starfish on the beach.

    We can never writer all the stories we want—we all die at some point and the keyboard goes cold—but we can write this story and know we did all we could today to make our world a little better.

    There are so many wrongs to write.

    So, do all you honesty can to make today a better day and leave the rest to others,


    p.s. and 5:40 a.m.? seriously? don’t be such a lie-about. 🙂

      • Jill,

        Some two-hundred years ago, our third president could not only have read every book worth reading, he owned most of them to the extent that he was able to sell them to the U.S. Congress and create the core of what would become The Library of Congress.

        Those were simpler times.

        I have a basic rule to protect my sanity. I don’t read, listen-to, watch or engage in conversation about topics or information which I have no intention of taking action on. For me, doing so only raises my anxiety levels and throws time down a rabbit hole from which I can never recover precious seconds.

        We must set boundaries and protect them like libertarian militia nuts if we ever want to have a meaningful life and accomplish that which is important to us.


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