On the contrary, there is always something to write.
Occasionally a child or teenager will stand in front of the opened refrigerator door and, uh, meditate. With the right hand on the handle and feet planted on the floor, s/he will stand there, silent and contemplative. And finally, if I am sitting there at the table, s/he will say, “There is nothing to eat.” (Full disclosure: I too, as a child, was guilty of perpetrating this on my mother.)
“Have an apple,” I say.
“Fry an egg.”
I don’t want an egg.
“Leftover soup. Cheese and crackers. Celery and peanut butter. A sandwich.”
No, no, no, and no.
“Well, you must not be that hungry,” I conclude.
S/he will say, before stomping out of the room: There is never anything to eat in this house!
It seems to me that people who write, either because they want to or because they have to, will occasionally stand in front of the open-doored refrigerators that are their minds and be disappointed that a delectable cake, already sliced and plated, is not sitting there on the middle shelf waiting for them to grab and eat it. Instead, they have to choose a few ingredients and assemble them into something they might want to eat. Often, they turn away.
To that, I say, “Don’t just stand there with the door open!” Instead, do this.
- Grab something substantial (akin to an apple or egg and not a condiment). This could be an anecdote or image that has stayed with you.
- Close the door, so that you are not distracted by the 50 other items in the fridge, or clutter of ideas and obligations in your head.
- Start working with that apple or egg. Peel it, or boil it. As you’re working with it, imagine: what else can go with this? (Sliced cheese, piece of buttered toast.) What image? What insight? Take that out too and start working with it, even if the first item is not “done.”
- Seeing that you’re already halfway into preparing a real snack, make a commitment to it. Put your food on a plate (add more detail, start shaping the anecdote you’ve been exploring).
- Make tea (write an inviting first line or paragraph).
- Don’t be in such a hurry. Sit down at the table, and stay with it for a while. Here is the place to meditate.
- Clean up. (Put the dishes away, not just in the sink.) Finish at least that paragraph. Write a note as to what you’ll do when you sit down with it next.
Sometimes when writers say they have nothing to write, it means they have either too much clamoring at them OR they are — let’s be honest — too lazy in the moment. They want their own thoughts to be presented to them like a piece of frosted cake. I know this because I have felt this way.
There is no frosted cake in there; it’s full of stuff and some of it leftover. The stuff won’t become something that anyone would want to eat until I make it so.