Staring Contest

I stare at it, and it stares back at me.

It doesn’t blink, doesn’t flinch, doesn’t twitch. It just stares at me, taunting me, defying me, thumbing its electronic nose at me.

The room is darkened in the early darkness of the late autumn, the soft glow burning my retinas with its pale unconcern. My fingers move to the keys, hovering, itching, ready to pound relentlessly, but nothing comes. I rub my eyes with my fingertips, sighing deeply. It’s going to win again, something inside tells me. It’s going to win again, and I will have allowed another week to go by without anything remotely resembling a spark emanating from me. I feel dry, suddenly tired, thirsty, hungry, antsy. I drag my hands over my face and pause to stare at it again.

Not surprisingly, it’s still blank, the cursor blinking steadily at me, flashing as if to double-dog dare me to put something on it. I set my jaw, reposition my fingers … and fall back into my uncomfortable chair again, trying to figure out why I can’t put anything up there.

There is nothing inside me right now but worry. There is nothing inside me right now but fear and the knowledge that yet another week is going to pass unproductively. I can’t stand it. I turn away from it quickly, watching the absently running slasher movie rambling in the background. It’s not interesting and in a moment I spin around again.

There it is. Blank, white, blinking ridicule. I want to reach out and slap it, choke it, punch it. I can’t afford to replace it so I have to stare at it again, gritting my teeth in resentment. I can’t force anything out of my brain. I wring it like a dishrag and it’s bone dry right now. I have nothing to say, nothing witty to pull from the memories of my disturbingly odd childhood. I have nothing creative bursting through my skull the way that I did in August when I put together my novel over the course of 14 weeks. I don’t have the guts to use an idea or plot generator, and that feels cheap and beggarly to me anyway, like cheating. I can’t do anything except stare at that white, inexorable blankness. I can’t stand it, and I can’t stand to be away from it. If I try the guilt that I should be doing something, should be trying, should be working through the dry spell, consumes me. When I try, this is the result. I want something to spill out and I don’t have anything to pour. I’m empty right now.

It’s not that I don’t know why. I do. My circumstances have exerted such pressure on me that there’s nothing I can do creatively. Worry has consumed me and it’s killed even the slightest inkling of anything else I may have had boiling in my skull recently. I was excited when I finished my novel. I was extremely excited, really. I had grandiose ideas of a sequel, of carrying the story forward and doing a series of them. I even thought I had an idea of what that sequel would be. I wanted to access (and through the grace of a friend, did access) an outlining software to do the outline. I discovered the joys of outlining as I progressed through my story. I was outlining the individual segments (chapters? scenes? whatever they were) before I wrote them. It gave me a guideline to follow, a direction when things got a little harder to remember. So I thought it was a cool thing to have available. I thought maybe outlining the whole thing ahead of time would allow me the freedom to write along the guideline, never losing sight of the overall plot and still work in as many plot twists and things as I wanted. So anyway, I had the outlining software, I thought I had an idea, and I thought I would write during this time.

I saw it coming. I expected it. This crisis isn’t news to me. I knew it was going to happen, and I faced it with hopeful optimism that maybe this time things wouldn’t be as difficult as they were in the past. So at first, I played the game. I did the work I needed to do, thinking that any day, any moment, the crisis would end and my mind would be free to focus on the creation again.

But it dragged on. One week. Two weeks. Nothing.

I didn’t realize until now, though, that I never really had a chance. I was so overwhelmed by what’s happening I can’t focus on anything right now. I have too much going on.

That’s the thought that I use to repel the staring whiteness in front of me. That’s the incantation I use to ward off those evil spirits rumbling and grumbling in my head, telling me that I’m too weak to put prose to screen, not good enough, not able to muster through this time of worry and anxiety.

Good writers write. Weak writers let distractions drive them to blockage.

The thought frightens me a bit. I stand up, stretching, trying to fend off the vampires of self-doubt with the crucifix of my own need to prioritize things, to allow myself to be focused on the immediate need first. I’ve finished the one work, I tell myself. I need distance from it to re-work it and edit it. I need time away from it to be able to do it justice. But that cloying, whispering voice, full of venom and spite hisses at me again, and I turn my head once more to stare at the daunting white screen of my monitor.

Good writers write. Weak writers don’t. Which are you?

Which am I, indeed.

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5 thoughts on “Staring Contest

  1. Even great writers have dry spells. No one can be absolutely creative all the time. Cut yourself some slack, Love. This too shall pass.

    Take the advice you’d give to another in the same circumstances.


  2. Every writer goes through periods of blockage. When I’m stuck, I get up and walk away from the computer, unplug from the internet and TV and all their banal distractions. Go for a walk. Play with my kids. Go to bed early for a change instead of staying up until after midnight. Dream.

    Creativity is like any other crop – it must be cultivated and given time and room to grow. Waiting for your flowers to bloom can drive you mad, but if you go do something else for a bit, you’ll look up and realize they have while you were elsewhere.

    ANY kind of writing helps – even blogging. πŸ™‚


  3. Buck up little camper. Genius takes time. If it was easy anybody could do it. You will win. Don’t loose heart,

    This is an odd question but does your computer have a name? Mine does. I discovered after I named it I seemed to have some strange power over it. Maybe take a break and think of a name for your computer. It’s a no stress situation and it might take your mind off writing and let you be creative at the same time. Plus it’s fun. I’m an odd girl though so maybe it’s only fun to me. Everything will be okay. Plus your fans will be patient and wait because it’s worth it.

    On another note I went to your wife’s website and tried to post but I have to sign up for an account and I don’t want to. At least not right now. but please tell her howdy and I am looking at her site.


  4. @Ian – Great ideas, all, Ian. I do try to occupy myself with other things when I’m going through this sort of dry spell, and it usually works. One of the things that I always found weird was the amount of inspiration that would hit me while I was at work … where I couldn’t do much about it most of the time. Just the fact that I wasn’t focused on trying to be creative probably helped. I’m hoping to get back to that level of distraction again and see if the id will spew something interesting while the ego is busy, but so far, no luck.

    Thanks for being so encouraging, I really, really appreciate the support.

    @Raga – first, my wife checked the settings on her blog and said she doesn’t have the option turned on to require only registered users to comment, so she’s confused and looking into it. She thanks you for spending time with her and is working to ensure that you can chat soon.

    Thanks for being so patient, so supportive and so sweet with your gentle encouragement. It means the world to me, it really does. I can take heart knowing you’re out there waiting for me to do something, and looking forward to it. That’s a great motivator, and you have just guaranteed yourself an acknowledgment in my first published work! πŸ˜‰

    I haven’t named my computer, but I think I like that idea. Then I can curse at the bitch in the first person, by name, when she’s taunting me like she does, the wretch. πŸ™‚

    Thanks again, Raga. I wish I had words to express how much you mean to us.

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