“Am a writer,” my novelist mother wrote in a journal. “Get to call myself that because I write.”
A podcast interviewer asked me the other day after the interview, “How do you find time to write every day?”
Having absolutely no idea how to answer the question, I stammered until he was embarrassed for asking it.
I was reminded of the time, way back in my twenties, when I found myself the only passenger on a suburban bus. The driver and I got to talking and he asked me what I did for a living.
“I’m a writer,” I said brightly.
“Oh, goddamn!” the driver said. “I’d hate that.”
“Well, I read the Sun-Times, and I see all those words in those articles. Do you have to write every single one?”
“What do you mean, every one?”
“Like, all the ‘ands,’ and the ‘buts, and the ‘the’s’?”
“Yeah,” I said, sagging. “Every single one.”
“Yeah,” the driver, not taking his eyes off the road. “No thanks!”
My writer buddy Mike Long and I agree there is no such thing as writer’s block—only a kind of anxiety having to do with the realization that the immaculate idea in your head will lose its virginity in the course of its translation into words. The more you write, the more used to that idea you get.
The other cause of writers not writing is simple dread—the kind of Monday dread, that I feel this morning. To face down that dread, I go back to the day I believe I learned how to work. I was 18, and working as the lowest man on a grounds crew at a public golf course in Ohio. A wet, muggy, cloudy morning, after a night of storms. The deluge had washed the entire sloped face of a big sand trap down to the bottom. The superintendent dropped me off there, with nothing more than a shovel, and the pack of cigarettes in my pocket. As he drove off, I lit one, surveyed the situation and realized this was going to be my whole day—scooping the sand from the bottom of the trap, and tossing it up against the face, one shovel-full at a time. Goddamn. How does one begin? I finished my smoke, tossed it away, grabbed my shovel, and plunged it into the sand.
When I have a day of writing ahead of me, I whisper it out loud: “Put the shovel in the pile.”
Which I just did.