Every now and then someone will ask me about writer’s block. It can be someone who wants to write and doesn’t know where to start. They may be hoping for a story about strategies for overcoming frustrating moments when a blank slate prompts inaction. They can be someone who doesn’t really know me and they’re trying to fill the air between us to keep a conversation going.
I’ve been writing for a long time and I can’t remember a time when I was paralyzed by lack of thought. Ever since fifth grade, when our class had to create poems as a kind of teaching exercise, I just dove into it. I can’t remember what sort of nonsensical babble was included between the green construction paper covers of my first book, but I’ll never forget the bold, all-caps title I sported on the front – POMES – which may have suggested that the work did not rival Auden or Donne.
Something about poetry has always intrigued me, but I can’t tell iambic pentameter out of a bag of IAMS dog food. I ended up giving up the required beret, and can only remember a few lines from a debauched limerick – who is an anapest trimeter!
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Still, I managed to support myself with words and had a good time doing it, for the most part.
For about 25 years I have been primarily an editorial writer, writing concise, unsigned opinions several times a week in the upper left corner of the editorial page. I have often explained how it worked. The editorial is the institutional voice of the publication, and whether or not I agree with the position, my job is to write to support the newspaper’s point of view. I liken it to being hired to paint a house. If the owners want the house to be bright yellow, it doesn’t matter if the painter thinks it should be blue. He paints just what the owner wants.
I like to write opinion comments. However, I try to write other things just to keep life interesting. I did some editing for a woman who ran a public relations firm in a northern state, and ended up writing for some of her clients. It was a fascinating mix of stories. I learned a lot about LIDAR, the computer/laser guidance system that allows vehicles to move without a driver. Another assignment involved a new procedure offered by a surgeon’s cosmetic plastic surgery practice. I was given the name and phone number of a woman who had had the procedure, and I called her, spending about an hour discussing the finer points of the Brazilian butt lift.
A few years ago, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, my boss asked me to write a weekly column about the impact of the changes it has made in our daily lives. I was hesitant about it, not knowing how to approach the task and, more importantly, how to come up with a topic each week. But I was working from home, sitting at a chart table on the patio, and I had noticed a whole world of wildlife activity that I didn’t know existed and would never have seen had it not been for the exodus of the virus from our downtown office. So I wrote about chipmunks, and I wrote about birds. I witnessed the harrowing ballet of the agony of a wasp in the prehistoric mouth of a blood-red skink. Over 100 weeks later, I still managed to find something to spill on the virtual “page”.
A few weeks ago I returned to another form of writing that I have long enjoyed – human interest stories. I had seen a post from a Facebook friend proud of her son’s accomplishments. I watched a video in which he was the lead actor and was impressed with his skills. So I messaged her, and a few days later she and her son met me for coffee, and the kid kept me hooked for about an hour, excitedly telling me what his life was like. since 6th grade. Both the boy and the mother seemed to enjoy the meeting, but I really think I got more out of it than them, because I enjoyed both the visit and the time spent writing John’s story. Mcdonalds.
I was very lucky to never have experienced writer’s block. My only obstacle – if you can call it that – is taking the time to write the songs I want to write. I don’t think I will ever finish.
What I read: “The Cartographers” by Peng Shepherd (autocorrect changed its name to Penguin, which sounds better I think); “Rebel With A Clause: Stories and Advice from a Traveling Grammarian” by Ellen Jovin; a collection of essays by Joan Didion, whose name I no longer remember.
What I broadcast: Lincoln Lawyer, Better Call Saul, The Indian Doctor, Vienna Blood, Gilmore Girls (don’t laugh, that’s very clever).
Bill Perkins is the editorial page editor of the Dothan Eagle and can be reached at [email protected] or 334-712-7901. Support the work of Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.