Suffering From Writer’s Block

Posted: November 3, 2012 by S. Trevor Swenson in Home, Me & Mine
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It’s true! “There are eight million stories in the Naked City.”

I have said and written many times before that New Yorkers have no excuse for writer’s block. We have the unique privilege of paying way too much to share a suffocating, under maintained hovel with a roommate or 6 and the Roach Family Robinson in one of the craziest, most over-crowded, expensive, stressful, vibrant and interesting cities in the world. All you need is a little imagination, a pen, some paper or a personal recorder (Don’t worry, New Yorkers are accustomed to people seemingly talking to themselves. We even start to get a little worried when we don’t see them regularly). Pack a sandwich and hop on the subway to… well, anywhere in the five boroughs Then watch your fellow New Yorkers and take notes. I even thought this strategy might make a good book of short stories. “50 Sandwiches/50 Subway Stations” might just be that elusive best seller I have been searching for. I can just picture cute, wide eyed, naive college groupies waiting outside my luxury hotel suite in the middle of my record breaking book signing tour. “Oh Mr. Swenson, your book changed my life. I’m am English Lit.major at Columbia and I’m taking a class on Post-Modern American Potty Humor. I haven’t read anything as witty as your piece “Rancid Tuna Salad on Pumpernickel at 59th and Lex.” and the brilliant epilogue “Food Poisoning & Finding a Bathroom Near 59th and Lex”. Will you sign my book and my left buttock?…Here’s a sharpie.”

My warped little famous writer fantasies never seem farfetched to me. They made films out of Julie & Julia and The Devil Wears Prada. The second that pesky cease and desist order Ms. Streep has out against me expires…I can start pitching my ideas again.

I tell aspiring writers suffering from writer’s block to “just write and don’t worry if it’s any good.” I’m currently in a wonderful place with my writing career. Unpublished with no prospects and yet I still have the cojones and chutzpah to pass along unwanted and unsolicited advice to other writers in the same boat. So, this is what I am doing now…just writing, and convinced that it’s not any good. I titled this piece “Suffering from writer’s block” because it really is something that one suffers from. I’m not even a successful writer, and I feel like I have “lost it” if I haven’t banged out a solid piece of writing on the worldwide conspiracy to get on my nerves every 48 hours. I suppose it is similar to what professional athletes feel in the middle of a slump. I’m not even on a deadline or being paid to write. The best I can hope for these days is more than 10 views of my blog on any given day. It’s OK. I remain convinced I am the Vincent Van Gogh of gripey-kvetch essays. I’m not unpublished…I’m avante garde. I may never sell a piece in my lifetime, but surely my ramblings will be required reading for troubled sixth graders in 200 years. I can live with that, just not in a financial sense.

Being a hopeless romantic and a product of too much television and bad movies I sometimes find myself wishing that I wrote on a typewriter, so I could rip paper out of the feeder in a dramatic gesture of exasperation, crumple it up and throw it into a brimming waste paper basket. Modern technology has denied us many theatrical gestures like this. All the cool writers in the movies did this and I feel like I am missing something. It’s just not the same to daintily peck at the backspace key in a fit of creative frustration. Sometimes in the movies, frustrated writers would sweep everything off their desk in a vexed fit. It makes me want to buy an old typewriter and stacks of paper. I have never swept the contents off of my desk in a fit of hissy before, but I have wanted to. Computers are much more delicate pieces of machinery than the Sherman Tank IBM typewriters of the film noir movies. As much as we would love to sometimes, we can’t or hopefully don’t punch or headbutt our PCs. It also reminds me of when I was a young boy of 4 or 5 living with my mom and grandparents, watching Sesame Street, and they had a reoccurring character named “Don Music” who, I realized much later was really the Guy Smiley muppet with a bad wig on. Don Music was a tortured artist trying to compose songs like the ABC’s or Yankee Doodle on a grand piano complete with a bust of Beethoven. As he composed he would become frustrated, flip out and slam his head onto the piano, which to my 5 year old sensibilities was the highest form of comedy. Like millions of other children I began smashing my forehead against my grandmother’s piano. Apparently so many kids were doing this that parents wrote to PBS and Don Music got 86’d in 1974. But, I remember…boy do I ever.

Maybe the reason I am suffering through writer’s block is because I am laid up. It’s post Hurricane Sandy, I’m still in a cast, I have no money and I have run out of things in my household to write about. I sent my latest: “The Broken Toaster Chronicles” out for publication last week, and instead of the standard rejection letter, I got a hand written note suggesting that I “break the Prozac tablets in half” prior to my next submission. I even wrote about my cats, which I have claimed for ages is the last bastion of the untalented hack. The crazy cat lady or more precisely, The Untalented Crazy Cat Lady. I read the piece to the cats. One left the room to drop a deuce in his sandbox and the other fell asleep. Everyone’s a critic.

Being on injured reserve has kept me from my favorite spots for observing the human condition. No laundromat, competing for folding tables with third world immigrant mothers who like to use them for changing diapers. No grocery store where my blood pressure rises and IQ drops as I fume over the incredible number of people who can’t accurately count 12 items (or less). No work. No school. No gym…nothing. I need to be able to interact with the personal nemesis I have chosen; my fellow man. Then become irritated and annoyed, stomp home muttering to myself and pour forth some observational comedic gold. Then I call the editress-in-chief and BFF The Gow and read it to her. “Slowly please.” she tells me before I read to her. Actually, there is a little ritual we go through after I have written something. In the event that she has the unmitigated gall to not answer her phone, I patiently wait through her lengthy voice mail and scream “Where ARE You???” Unpaid editors are not supposed to go the bathroom without their cell phones. She must feel loved picking up her phone, seeing 16 new messages and patiently deleting my wailing missives.


“Gow!” (That’s how she answers the phone when I call. Isn’t that cute? Yes it is.)

“Hi Gow, I just wrote something. Wanna hear it?”

“What do you think?”

“Um Yes?”



“Slowly please”

I start out slow but my ADD and excitement gets the better of me after I reach the second or third sentence and I speed-read to her, pausing only when I think I have made a funny and want to give her time to laugh. When she doesn’t explode with laughter instantly I start to get worried. She will either laugh and make me feel like I have accomplished something, or she will do her polite fake chuckle and tell me “It’s OK honey, it just needs some more work.”, after which I sulk, moan, bite my arm, ask “Why do you hate my writing?” she will reassure me and after I stop crying I tweak the piece to make it better. It’s an odd process, but it has worked to date.

Now if you’ll all excuse me. I am going to call the Gow and see exactly where I stand with this piece.


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