I watched a lot of M*A*S*H when I was growing up. The mixture of comedy and pathos—never knowing if your favorite character would triumph or end up dying in a helicopter crash after getting their orders to go home—did a great deal for my young, naive heart. One of the episodes that has stuck with me over the years involved a pianist whose hand was permanently damaged. Unable to play, he is despondent and angry. In the end he is introduced to one-handed concertos and able to play again, albeit in a different manner. For the last decade I’ve been dealing with severe physical issues in my shoulders/arms/hands that often leave me unable to write even a few words. I think of that pianist often as I try to find different workarounds, struggling to do the thing I love most.
Above all else I consider myself a writer. Not because anyone pays attention to what I write (they don’t) or because I get paid for it (I don’t), but because, no matter what, even if no one ever gave a damn about anything I ever wrote, I’d still keep writing. That, to me, is what makes a writer, and that, to me, is why some people who get paid to write – who make a living off of it – will never, ever be a writer.
So you can see writing’s very important to me. If I had my way I’d write for hours and hours every day. Yet, adult responsibilities, plus not being wealthy, makes that impossible. Those are givens, but what happens when it goes beyond that – what happens when a writer can’t physically write, can’t get the words from his head onto paper? My physical issues came to a climax last December, forcing me to quit my job and leaving me completely unable to write, let alone struggle to do basic tasks such as eat with a fork. Hours and hours of work on my body have improved things enough to let me take care of myself and start working again (well, until losing my job due to the pandemic), but there are still many long days of strain and heartbreak. Often after work I’d be too weak in my hands/arms/shoulders to properly hug my fiancé, or do much else than try to recover enough to work the next day.
When your body won’t let you do what you want—basic things that you’ve done for years, things the great majority do without a second thought—it’s brutal. I have two unpublished novels, one unpublished novella, and many unpublished short stories, not to mention hundreds of notes for stories I’d love to work on. If I had my way I’d be constantly reworking them until an agent saw enough to take me on. But I can’t. When I take pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, I never know if I’ll be able to make five minutes or 50 before my shoulder seizes up, or my arm goes numb, or my fingers, and if that happens, and I push it, I end up with varying degrees of incapacitation for the day or longer.
And so my passion has become a sort of prison. I’ve never had mental writers block—never understood the concept—but for years I’ve had physical writers block. Writing up the initial notes for this post left me suffering the rest of the day, unable to get full feeling back into my right arm and hand. Right now I’m using dictation software, which is extremely helpful, but unreliable. Not to mention, when it comes to creative thinking, I have to physically write on paper first, I can’t do a first draft on a screen, nor can I dictate it. I’ve tried many, many times over many, many years—the creative part of my brain simply does not register well with the interface.
So then what to do? Keep climbing that hill, even if it’s one sentence a day, never giving up, writing for as long as possible without discomfort, even if that’s only a few minutes. Because that’s what writers do, they write no matter what. Writing is not about how many followers you have on social media, or how much money you make doing it, it’s about the pure love of the written word, of watching that pen or pencil scratch onto paper the thoughts that are in your head, it’s about looking at them, reworking them over and over until you are completely satisfied (which you will never truly be), and once it’s done, going onto the next thing, because there is no end of stories, there are always more stories, more words to use, more arrangements that can be made. No matter how I have to do it, no matter how slow, I will continue to write and write and write because that is what a writer does.