Writer’s Block

One of the things that I hoped would come out of this blog was a memoir. I was 150 pages into one about a particular year in my life when Philip died. After that, I couldn’t write for a year. When I finally felt ready to, it was not my memoir that interested me, it was Philip’s death. So I started my blog, and it’s been three years since I did so.

The last few months have been a transition. I didn’t know what was going on. It was getting more difficult to write the blog – I didn’t know what I wanted to say. And I’d been thinking of starting the memoir but really wasn’t motivated. Since what I do is assume everything is my fault, I was sure I was just running out of things to say on the blog and too unskilled to think about starting a memoir.

Some time last year I began getting emails from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville. They have an adult writing program that runs year round. And they have classes on Saturdays, which is what I’m looking for because if I have to shlep in my car to Bronxville or take the bus to NY to see what’s offered there, I don’t want to do it after a day at work. When I lived in Brooklyn it was a short subway ride into Manhattan. And if the train you were on didn’t take you exactly where you wanted to go, you got off and took another one that did. And you could do it 24/7.

Here in NJ, not so. First off, for me to even get to the train requires transportation. And since you can’t park anywhere around a train station without an annual parking permit (which, in Montclair, has a five year waiting list), you have to call a car service or get yourself Uber-ed there. The train leaves you at Penn Station, and if you’re not in reasonable walking distance from 34th street, you have to get on yet another train. Or a bus, or a taxi.

There are also buses to the city, and since they’re in walking distance from where I live, that’s how I get to Manhattan. But unless I’m leaving at some odd hour, that forty minute ride is at least doubled. After 18 years of living here, I still resent the fact that I’m at the mercy of the DeCamp Bus Schedule, which runs buses only hourly after rush hour and stops all service sometime around midnight.

I’ve looked into writing classes at The New School , 92nd Street Y and Gotham. Their adult education classes are on weeknights or weekday afternoons. Which leaves me with Sarah Lawrence – they’re just over the George Washington Bridge which means that with no traffic (if there ever is such a thing where the George Washington Bridge is concerned)  I could be there in about half an hour. While driving gives me more control over what time I come and go, I balk at going over that menacing truck-filled bridge with its upper level and lower level and exits from either side. And with eight lanes to choose from you’d better know which side the exit is on or you’re screwed, GPS or not.

There must be something deeper than that holding me back. I’ve managed to begin the memoir, but writing’s gotten terribly difficult, like it used to be before Philip died. Much as I wanted to write, I’d drag myself to my computer every time I decided to. And often I stared, or came out with stilted sentences. And I don’t think this is uncommon, not at all. “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” Samuel Johnson said.

Count me among the blockheads.

I’m suffering writer’s block. After Philip died I was so split open that the words spilled out on their own. There wasn’t anything to stop them and I thought that’s how it would remain. But that same vulnerability is turning on me now – I’m struggling with the memoir, struggling with the blog. But I can’t just throw my hands up in the air and cry “writer’s block!” I can’t just wait for it to pass. Because it’s not an “it,” a separate entity that’s been tossed my way. It’s an internal struggle between my ego, which has decided I’m to write every day and I’m to write in an orderly manner and I’m to sit at my desk until this memoir is finished, no matter how many years it takes, and my unconscious, which in the face of my ego’s dictatorship says fuck you.

What is that, “my unconscious?” What do I mean when I say that? Let’s call it spirit, the wellspring of creativity. This “deeper” me is overwhelmed by the personality I’ve constructed to protect it. The blog has simply been my spirit breaking free, telling my stories, trying to understand this thing called My Life. Trying, one word at a time, to live with Philip’s death. There’s a freedom with the blog – it’s mine. I own it. It gets to be what I want it to be. I work it, but it’s to my satisfaction, no one else’s. No editor cutting sentences, no teacher telling me there’s too many words there and not enough here.

But then I started to write the memoir and I froze. I worry about “setting scenes” and “showing instead of telling.” I worry about how to tell the story to the point that I no longer know how to. I push sentences around instead of having them flow. I feel like what I’m writing isn’t even good enough to be a shitty first draft.

And I’m confused. How do I help myself write? I’ve set my desk up to be where I write. I have a desk calendar where I keep track of my writing time. I count the number of hours I write weekly. I note what I want to write the next day so I don’t have to think about where to start. I’ve tried to make a routine. Write every day, even if it’s for ten minutes. Keep a process log where I write about what I’m going through as I keep working. Read a book about writing every day, read a memoir every day.

If I don’t make rules, how do I get myself to write? If I do make rules, I’m too uptight to write.

The struggle with writing has little to do with writing. It’s about unfinished business, business I thought was done once Philip died. His death so overwhelmed I couldn’t see how anything – as long as Natalie was okay – could matter enough to bother me again. But once I sat down and decided to be “serious” about writing and imposed my routine I split in two. Because “impose” is just that – something to be borne, endured, obeyed, something set by authority. And authority means my wicked witch of a mother whose domineering, sneering, angry voice still runs my life more than I care to admit.

And who I’m not yet ready to write about because I lose my footing when I try to.                                                                                                                                                     

©2016 Denise Smyth


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rose
    Apr 25, 2016 @ 08:59:03

    Hi Denise,

    I like your free writing, and free words…without all the proper sentences and correct writting format, because it’s in your free writing and words that your true self relies. It’s where you come out as you really are, and where people get to know you a bit better. I never wrote a memoir and have no intention of doing it, but from my point of view, the blog has more of a true feeling…less complicated, just free words flowing and creating the reality you are passing on to us….I like to hear you here, keep writing…




    • Denise
      May 01, 2016 @ 16:18:30

      Thank you Rose – yes, the blog is free flowing, but once I say “memoir” I freeze and lose that flow. It’s a mental block is all – I mean, writing is writing. It’s just the crazy nattering in my head I’m trying to deal with. xoxoxoxo


  2. Pedro
    Apr 25, 2016 @ 20:07:02

    Hi D,

    I agree with Rose. I ‘m lucky because I see you almost everyday but I do look forward to catching up with you on the blog and then having a lunch date to talk about it. Do what works for you but if you can, keep expressing yourself here.

    With Love of coarse,



  3. godtisx
    May 01, 2016 @ 15:25:39

    Lost my mom in January 2015 and I am having a time of it too, even blogging. I think grief has a hold, and we need to work through it to return fully. There are grief counseling groups, actually seeking to join one myself.

    You might want to talk to someone or do something to release more grief (from the death).


  4. Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective
    May 02, 2016 @ 18:45:28

    I was always more of a reader than a writer. Until Jason died, I had never actually written a journal page in my life. My sister brought a journal with her as a gift for me when she came for Jason’s memorial service. I started writing the next week and ended up having to purchase journals in bulk. They words just flowed out. Since we had no family close and nearly everybody we knew disappeared, I needed an outlet. I could write whatever I felt or write about whatever I was going through, and not feel judged for it.

    I used the journals as a base for my blog when I first started. Some days I posted more than one post. But I, too, seem to have run out of words for the most part. I feel like I have more to say and more to do that might help other bereaved parents, but I feel stuck. Writers block, indeed! I have no great aspirations to write a book, but am hoping to get back to more writing soon.


    • Denise
      May 06, 2016 @ 10:05:24

      Yes, I agree – that feeling of having run out of words. Sometimes I wonder if, in part, I’m so tired of feeling what it feels like to have my child die; but it’s also my own personal demons, the ones that flared up as soon as I decided to write a “memoir.” I’m just trying to be kind to myself, a totally foreign concept.

      So good to hear from you!


  5. kmlagatree
    May 03, 2016 @ 14:50:56

    Tell your ego to go f- itself and write that shitty first draft. Doesn’t it help somewhat to aspire to “shitty?”


  6. Lucia Maya
    May 18, 2016 @ 19:06:38

    I so relate! I’m not even able to write blog posts these days, and have to keep trusting and waiting. I can’t even make a schedule to sit down and write every day, because right now, I don’t have anything to say.
    The word that caught my attention here was ‘serious’ – perhaps there’s a way to take this, and yourself, less seriously, and have more fun? Be more playful perhaps? I know that’s not my strong suit, perhaps not yours either, but that is what I ‘hear’, so offering it with love. xoxo L


  7. Denise
    May 19, 2016 @ 13:10:43

    Ever since Mother’s Day…I don’t know. I’m really sad, and I suppose it hasn’t helped that I’m reading through emails dating from 1996. I’ve 18 books of them and it’s put me in such a weird place. It’s not just about Philip, either; it’s a lot of stuff about my parents. It’s going to help with the memoir…if I don’t drown in it first.

    So good, as always, to hear from you. xoxoxo


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