I only ever experienced real writer’s block once in my life.
March 2014 was the worst month of my life. My grandfather died, my girlfriend broke up with me, my father decided to never speak with me again, and I had to struggle with quite a few serious health issues.
Not the end of the world, but the closest thing to my world ending I had ever experienced until then.
When it comes to writing, my mantra is, “Punch the damn keys.” I once wrote that, “if done right, tears turn into gold.”
I was a self-defined, proudly self-made, struggling artist. I lived and breathed art and thought suffering and pain and heartbreak to be the secret ingredients to creating real art.
There was a lot of pain, and thus I sat down to write. I couldn’t. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what to write, or that I didn’t feel like it. I just couldn’t. I’d open my computer, stare at the blank document, and cry.
For the rest of the year I republished old content on my blog over and over again. That was all I could do.
I tried to write about my heartbreak. I tried to write about the grief I felt over my grandfather’s passing, but to be honest, I’d much rather trade all my pain and suffering with a couple of other artists who needed a bit of tragedy in their lives to be more authentic.
I didn’t want it. I didn’t want the solicitous solitude I felt creeping all around me whenever I sat down to write.
One way or another, the people I loved had left. I tried to turn them into art, but I couldn’t.
It’s a tired truism that writing about what hurts us is the most valuable kind of writing there is. I often offer this advice myself. It’s also said that writing can heal. To me, whenever I sat down to write, it felt like I pressing a finger against an open wound.
Do you know what scar tissue is? It’s tissue that’s become impervious to heat or cold or touch. It feels nothing.
Our hearts can become scar tissue. Mine, unfortunately, was just broken.
The myth of the struggling artist has been propagated for centuries by folks who encourage one another to make use of their pain. We worship the brutal honesty of someone who’s been through hell and back, the same way we used to devour gladiatorial combats.
Hemingway advised us to “bleed on the page.” Gene Fowler told us to sit staring at a blank page until drops of blood would form on our forehead.
If you follow this advice, odds are you will end up with a heart so covered in scars it cannot feel anything at all.
The same way someone who sustains a massive injury goes into shock, so too can we overwhelm the soul.
It’s no surprise that writers have this love-hate relationship with writing. What reasonable person is willing to go through emotional trauma for the sake of writing some words on a piece of paper?
Like many other writers, I write in order to figure out who I am. I am trying to draw a map of my soul. I am trying to understand the way my inner narrative works. I’m always trying to figure out why and how I feel and think and do.
I don’t write to be understood. That’s not the point. I express myself differently when I try to be understood. I write because I want to understand. I use words like a sharp knife, cutting myself open, trying to figure out what does what and why.
Yet, all throughout 2014, I couldn’t do that.
I like to dissect my own feelings, emotions, and actions. I like to do the same to others as well, yet all throughout 2014, the act of sitting down to write required more courage than I could muster.
I tried to write about her, the one who couldn’t wait to leave. I kept picturing her, as she closed the door behind her, smiling, free at last from the unbearable burned of a love she no longer desired.
I tried to write about him, the one who didn’t want to leave at all.
The books I read offered no comfort. That was it. There was no comfort, no clarity. There was only pain.
The Portuguese have a word for it. Saudade. The love that remains when nothing can be done anymore. The way we miss what can never be returned to us.
And we always, always miss the most the people who will never come back.
Here’s the funny thing about writing: we all know that our stories can never come true. There’s no magic that can ever give life to the heroes and villains that inhabit our stories. Nonetheless, we always write with the vague hope that somehow, someday, our stories will come true.
I couldn’t write about those who had left, never to return to me again. This was real life, stranger than fiction, more painful than death, the kind of thing that breaks you apart.
I’m a writer. I love writing. It’s all I wanted to do with my life ever since I was fourteen years old, and not being able to write was a fate worst than I could ever have imagined.
When it hurt so much that I couldn’t even turn my pain into words, I understood that there’s a fine line between being brave enough to write your truth, the uncomfortable truth, even though your heart hurts and your fingers shake against the keyboard, and writing about a pain so intimidate that words could only diminish it.
Hemingway was wrong. Bleeding on the page doesn’t make great art. It only leaves a big mess on your desk.
My grandfather died and I’m always sad about it, and I miss him all the time. That’s the story. That’s the most I’ll ever be able to write about it. That’s the heartbreaking truth.
The writing that truly inspires, the words that nudge the world a bit, are the words that describe a perilous and strange odyssey. Grief rarely transforms us. Pain seldom makes us better.
What doesn’t kill us makes us wish it did.
I didn’t write anything for almost an entire year because I hadn’t lived at all. I did travel to England, yet all I collected were memories I couldn’t share with the one person I’d always tell my memories to.
Writing that matters requires that we overcome whatever it is that is trying to bring us down. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but it takes us a while to recover.
It took me a long time to realize this, to let go of my pain and focus on writing about the journeys I had completed.
Looking back now, I realize I was trying to write about a lesson I hadn’t learned. The wound was fresh, the blood still moist against the skin. There was no map to draw, because I was utterly and completely lost.
The most painful stories are not the ones worth writing about. The stories that are worth writing about describe our victory against struggle, overcoming pain and adversity in order to heal.
Orson Welles once said that if you want a happy ending, it all depends on where you stop your story, but I think that if you stop it too soon, it’s no longer a story. It’s just a bleeding heart, a desk, a chair, and a couple of pages filled with blood, tears, and all the memories you’d much rather forget.