Writer's Block, p.1
Copyright 2012 A.M. Gray
Cover by V.Webster
Cover image belongs to V.Webster
The author let himself in the security door at the front of his apartment and he headed for his mailbox. He felt tired today; maybe a little strained. He collected his mail and sorted through it, while he waited for the elevator. He put the mail that would go into the rubbish, unopened, under his left armpit.
One was from his editor. He didn’t need to open that, to know what was in it. Was he psychic? No. It would say pretty much the same as the last letter from his editor and the same as the letter before this one, too. It would be a countdown of the days until they expected his new book to be on her desk in their office. Single sided copies, times new Roman font, 12 point, left centred, double-spaced, no staples; the usual palaver.
As he reached the door of his apartment, he had his key ready. He opened the door, entered the apartment and heaved a sigh of relief; that kind of sigh that people usually gave when they came home after a bad day. Odd, he didn’t think his day had been that tiring.
He bustled around, boiling the kettle, throwing out the trash mail and opening the others with a letter opener. He was a neat, some would say fastidious, man. He liked things to be in their place and he liked things to be used for their intended purpose. You did not open mail with a bread knife for example. That was what letter openers were for.
No person came to greet him as he returned home. He also did not have a pet; not even a hamster or a gold fish. They added a random facet to his life that he preferred not to have. Not that fish could do anything too dramatic; except die unexpectedly, he supposed. So, no pets.
People also tended to get in the way. The wanted him to do things for them. They wanted to talk. They wanted him to stop writing at three am and come to bed. What for? To sleep? He was busy. They wanted to talk about their feelings and where ‘they’ were going. So, no people, either.
He liked his life uncluttered by others. He liked his emotions two dimensional and on paper; where he controlled them.
He liked his apartment uncluttered. Simple furniture; hardwood polished timber floors, no art on the walls and no photos of family. Truth be told, he didn’t have any. He didn’t have any photos and he didn’t have any family. No new family of his own and he was estranged from his parents.
Estranged, it was an odd word.
But then, words were his craft.
And he took his craft seriously. He treated writing like a job. He sat at his desk from nine to five every day.
And he wrote.
He wrote very well. He had already published a series of books. He had a legion of devoted fans that followed his every word. There were internet sites that were devoted to him and his characters. Readers made fan art and videos for his characters. They shipped certain pairings. He attended book signings and conferences, where people asked him the oddest questions. Often, they asked the same question; one that he had heard many times before. If they were so eager to read his every word, surely they would know that he had already answered that particular question a hundred times? He did not say a thousand times, because that would be exaggerating and he didn’t normally do that either. They could check the section of his blog specifically designed for such questions and aptly named ‘frequently asked questions.’
His main character was everything he was not, of course. He was tall, athletic, and attractive to women and he survived his numerous escapades with the exact right, witty phrase at the exact right time. Each time, he emerged from his adventure, a little more battered, a little more human and all the more attractive because of it.
Wasn’t that the joy of writing? That you could do that? In real life, he found himself thinking of the perfect rejoinder the next day or in the shower the next morning. Never at the time when you actually needed the perfect putdown.
His main character was so loved by his fans that he was currently working on book number five in the series.
That was a thought. Were they his fans or his character’s?
But, what he could not bring himself to tell his editor was, that for the first time ever, he had writer’s block. Should that be Writer’s Block? It was big enough for capital letters.
He sat at his desk from nine to five and he had nothing to show for it.
He had never had this problem before. He loved words. They fall out of his head in a steady stream. He wrote constantly. He never deleted anything that he had written. It may not fit the current story, but who knows where he could fit that perfect conversation into the perfect scene in the next book, or maybe the book after that.
His muse had deserted him. Not that he would ever have said that he even had one. However, if he did, it was now gone.
He worried. He had deadlines to meet, as his editor frequently reminded him. He had bills to pay, more questions from fans to answer and blogs to blog on. He did not believe the first four books will be enough to support him for the rest of his life. He needed an income and that will come with book five. His editor had also hinted at the promise of a movie or a television series.
No book five; no money. It was that simple.
His main character stood on the page at a crossroads, unable to decide which of the four directions to go. His trademark determination had deserted him and he was usually so decisive.
He was suddenly inert, as if he had run out of fuel. And if his fuel was words, then it was the author who had let him down. And he had no witty rejoinder either.
So, the author walked away from it. He had a break in the middle of a writing day.
He went to do what he had done long ago when he first started writing. He watched people. Not having many interactions of his own, he used to loot those of complete strangers. Listen in shamelessly to their conversations. Watch couples fight over lunch; that strained low voiced argument that attempted to stay within the bounds of public decency. He gained ideas from the interactions of others. He used to sit in a cafe with one cup of coffee and a notebook and write down little sentences and conversations that he overheard and could use later.
He had to move cafes occasionally. They did not like him sitting there all day with one cup of coffee.
He had dozens of ideas about what was happening in the people’s lives. He built entire scenes around a look, a glance or a shoulder bump. The touch of a hand. A blown kiss. A hug in a crowded street. A person walking who constantly glanced nervously at their own shoulder bag. Why did they do that? What was in the bag? What if…?
But, all of that was in the past tense. It did not work for him today.
His main character waited at the crossroads in his trademark hat and coat.
But he did not take single step.
So the author tried another old trick, a brisk walk. It would clear his head.
His head was now clear.
In fact, it was too clear.
The author was at even more of a loss.
He tried another old trick. He dragged out the old index card system he used when he first started writing and he used to lose track of his own characters.
He spent too much time writing down everything and then all it did was make him think how much more he had to go. It was pathetic. Did he really need to write down that his main character always wore a particular hat and coat?
He felt like using the damn index cards to slash his own wrists.
He was sure he had a big climactic end scene in mind for book five, but for the life of him, he cannot remember it now. He looked on his computer, in his word processor program. He called it … what? What did he call it? Some
Each bit was stored in a folder with the working title of the book; the working title that was usually scrapped for a wittier, cleverer title later after discussion with his editor. The folder also contained different versions of each chapter.
He never deleted anything he had written. That was his mantra.
At worst, he may use strikethrough so that he could still read it. Just in case.
But, he cannot find it.
He was sure it was already written; at least the core elements.
He always wrote to an endpoint; a climax. Half the time he had the ending sorted out before he started writing at the beginning. He wrote backwards sometimes, or hopped back and forth within the chronology of the story, completely secure that he remembered where his characters were and where they need to be, in a dozen more pages.
He sat there and searched for information that no longer seemed to exist. He had not had a hard drive failure or been affected by a computer virus. He suddenly doubted himself. He would never have started book five without a concrete idea of the ending.
He turned to another old comfort; the words of others.
He pulled out his favourite book. He took his shoes off and settled into his favourite chair; his reading chair, for a read. And disaster struck.
The words tumbled the way they usually do for him, but not out of his head and onto the page. This time they are tumbling out of their lines and paragraphs and they are pooling at the bottom of the page. Their meaning was lost. They are unordered and chaotic and everything he hated.
He hoped this was all some special novelist nightmare; his worst dreams come true.
He hoped that he will wake up soon. If it was a dream. But, part of him recognised that it was not.
Without words of his own, he did not have the tools to fight.
He cannot stop it. He cannot write a solution. He cannot even think of one.
While his words literally desert him, he did not have the tools to stop it.
And this was it… his final scene.
His words failed him.
His heart stopped. He could not live in a world without words.
The book dropped from his hand. His head fell to the side. He uttered one last sigh.
His spirit did not want to go. It hung around the apartment. It avoided the light.
The insects found him earlier, but it took people days to find him and only then because his editor had finally reached the stage of actually visiting his apartment. He thought that he had trained her out of that kind of closeness years ago. She had made the building supervisor open the door. His spirit watched her shocked reaction. In the following hours, there was a flurry of activity he could barely comprehend. So many people in uniforms. So much activity for one body. He assumed it was because he was a celebrity; or at least a midlist author.
He saw his editor pick up his index cards and read through them. He saw her face change from mourning to speculative. She looked at his computer and wishfully pressed the enter key. The screen lit up. He looked over her shoulder. All his missing files were there.
He was astonished.
She scanned quickly through his plotlines and his story arcs for the fifth and following books. She got more animated. She started to make phone calls. He had trouble hearing everything she said, but he heard the words ‘guest author’.
He came to an awful realisation. His character was going to outlive him. Oh, the irony.
Another call confirmed that the movie deal would go ahead. His death provided enormous publicity and it was all free.
Another writer would provide the words to propel his main character forward.
He did it with respect and grace. The main character doffed his familiar hat, bowed his head and muttered a quick farewell to his author.
And then he strode purposefully off to rescue his assistant and defeat the enemy. He survived this escapade. He did it all with the exact right, witty phrase at the exact right time.
The author turned towards the light; he allowed himself to fade.
About the Author
I feel I should be witty and informative about how many children and household pets I have. But really, the chickens lay eggs and I am yet to see what use the teenagers are. They eat the eggs, I suppose. I love writing. I also read a lot and play my music loud... really loud.
I started writing fanfiction as mrstrentreznor and discovered that my head had many more stories in it, than the ones that I chose to correct. I choose to share them with you now.
I am Australian, and that might explain why my language is sometimes confused. I am aware that most of my readers are American, but occasionally I slip up and write ‘car boot’ instead of ‘trunk’ or whatever. Please forgive me.
Connect with me online:
My blog: Gray Matters: [https://amgray.blogspot.com.au/]