Near the end of last year I was on a roll. I had been producing steadily throughout the year, with two novels and a long novella. But the last few months of the year I turned my attention to short stories and began completing one after the other. The amazing thing was that I would write nonfiction all day, starting before seven in the morning and often continuing until around eight in the evening. After a break for dinner I would start my fiction writing. I had gotten so depressed because I had no time for fiction that I determined to do something about it. I decided to write five hundred words of original fiction every evening at least five evenings a week. That was around November or December of 2014, and since then I have more or less stuck to it. I allow myself to count the words I write for my blog, as I have no other time to write them, but otherwise it’s always been fiction. It adds up if you keep at it steadily.
Obviously in a schedule like that it’s easier to write novels than short works, because it usually takes me as long to warm up for a short story as it does for a novel. So once you get a novel going you can just keep tooling along on the momentum of the experience. When you’re doing a string of short stories, however, you stop each time and have to start again from scratch. The amazing thing about my streak in late 2015 was that I was writing substantial short stories, good ones too, one after the other, with only a day or two between the end of one and the beginning of the next. As I said, I was on a roll.
Well, then life intruded. The good life, to be sure. It was Christmas season, and all my sons came into town, some stayed in our small apartment, and things got very, very busy. I knew it would happen and I planned for it. I took a couple weeks off fiction writing; it was all I could do. There just wasn’t time. But then…
But then began the horror story for all writers. When it came time to get started again, to fire up the engine and let it roar back to life… Nothing. Blank. I simply couldn’t think of a thing to say. I wanted a character, a scene, a damn single sentence to get started with, and I couldn’t come up with a thing. I was blocked good and proper. I still am, in fact. I am writing this in lieu of the fiction that I should be writing. I have sat in front of a screen staring at a blank document night after night until necessity forced me to bed, knowing that I had to get up early and churn out the nonfiction to pay the bills regardless of how I felt.
And I found myself captive of my old dream, my recurring hope, that I could somehow bring in enough writing income to dispense with the nonfiction, to wake up every morning and give my entire mental and physical energy to the writing that I love. Instead, I approach my beloved fiction in a state of exhaustion after a long day. Whatever. I can live with it. I’ve broken blocks before.
The main reason I am writing this down tonight is that when I was thinking about what I could write I got a vision of a beach in Greece where I decided to resume my writing career. I had started out as a young man with writing as my only goal in life. I had attended the Clarion West science fiction writing workshop at the age of twenty. I had set out on the road across the United States, around Europe, across the Middle East to the Indian Subcontinent to gain experience and find my voice as a writer.
And then somewhere along the way I stopped writing. I got married, began to raise a large family. We ended up in Greece and I taught English for a living, and we would spend our summers at my Greek wife’s parents’ beach house in a small town on Halkidiki near Thessaloniki. It was there on a beautiful sunny afternoon while on a walk along the shore with two or three of my sons that I felt it was time I should start writing again. And I did. Slowly and steadily, writing short stories, sending them off to markets, getting scattered sales.
Since then, there’s been a lot of progress. Six novels, five short story collections, several other books. I have no intention of stopping, and I shouldn’t let a gap in production of a few weeks weigh heavily on my mind. But it does. It does. I can’t help it. I rue every day of wasted time. Should I have worked through the Christmas holidays instead of taking a break? Perhaps. But perhaps not. My sons are important to me, and some of them came from far away. I had to give them the attention they deserved, the attention I wanted to give them. No, I think the break was necessary. I just have to get past it. In the meantime, I sit in front of the screen, mentally constipated. That’s sort of what it’s like. You know, when you know you have to go and you won’t feel comfortable until you do but it just won’t come out and no amount of forcing does the trick.
It’s happened before. I’ve had breaks; I’ve had gaps, and they always broke loose and the flood pours forth again. Writer’s block is one of the most frustrating experiences ever, whether it lasts a day, a week, or a month. You want to work; there’s nothing you want to do more. You’d sacrifice a lot to get the flow going. But you have to wait it out. It’s not as simple as a physical blockage you can take a laxative for. It involves the mind and heart – your very soul. To use another analogy, it’s sort of like sex. Sometimes you have to rest up between sessions, give it a little time before getting into the next round. In the meantime, I offer this essay. C’est la vie.