Hemingway had a simple trick for overcoming writer’s block. In a memorable passage in A Moveable Feast, he writes:
Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scroll-work or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.
When, for whatever reason, I can’t get myself into a writing groove, I read the above. It brings me solace that even someone as accomplished as Papa at times also had difficulty getting thoughts to paper. As with anything else, I have personalized Hemingway’s – To get started, write one true sentence and made it my own ritual….
I don’t edit for grammar or sentence structure.
I edit for content.
I edit so it speaks the words I want spoken!
All the while, my brain is now pushing to go to the next, to continue writing the story. However, I don’t. No matter how strong the keyboard’s call.
I fight it.
I go on the porch.
I look out on the day, or evening. I immerse myself in the air. I listen to the sounds, or lack thereof. I take a couple deep, cleansing breaths. Breaths that send oxygen coursing through my body and up into my brain. I wait until the draw is so strong, so intense, I can no longer do battle. It is then, and only then, I re-enter the house. I stalk my laptop. It is now my one and only desire.
I take my seat.
One final time, I read the sentence. I make sure it is “a true sentence,” place my fingers upon the home row, and let the words flow.
And without fail, the words spring forth. That was before this pandemic. Now, I am experiencing something deeper than writer’s block, I am experiencing a profound loss of desire to write, as well as an emotional overload. Each emotional nerve ending is under constant barrage. I feel the pain of all the suffering that has engulfed the world. I can’t separate myself from it. Medication, wine, beer, deep breathing… nothing seems to stave on the onslaught of empathetic overload.
Tomorrow, I am going to try the above routine. I am going to see if I can channel Papa and write one true sentence, and then another, and then another.