Experiencing a Debilitating Case of Writer’s Block
Chuck Knoblauch was an all-star second baseman whose reputation for being a fundamentally-sound, Gold Glove infielder prompted the New York Yankees to sign him in the winter of 1998. With Derek Jeter playing by his side, the Yankees were speculated to have one of the most dynamic infield duos in the Major League. However, only a year after signing with New York, Knoblauch, one of the best second-basemen in the game at the time, began suffering throwing problems.
In situations that were once routine, Knoblauch lost accuracy with his throws to first base. He exhausted many efforts to fix his mental block, but nothing worked. High throws, low throws, even a throw into the stands eventually led to his removal from the infield to the outfield. Two years later, he was out of Major League baseball, altogether.
As a baseball lifer, I remember watching Chuck play. My dad was a fan of his when he was with the Minnesota Twins, and I naturally grew to appreciate the way he went about his business on the field.
When his throwing problems began, I didn’t think anything of it. I don’t think anyone did. As they continued, I wondered how a simple routine became anything but. It was so easy to throw a ball from second base to first. That is the shortest throw on the field, I would often think.
In my head, it was fun to think that if I could make the throw from second to first base on a consistent basis, I was better than Chuck Knoblauch, a numerous all-star and major leaguer. I could not grasp why, after playing baseball his whole life, he couldn’t get over such a seemingly small “thing”.
Over the past few months, I have been my own Chuck Knoblauch. What used to be natural and forthcoming simply became unnatural and unavailable. As much as I wanted to write and share my experiences of school, work, life, etc. I just couldn’t do it.
In my Writing and Research in Emerging Media class, one of our side projects was to create and maintain a blog. It was an informal process that, in the end, took a backseat to other projects, however, we were still encouraged to write at least twice a week. My last post was over a month ago.
It’s difficult to put a finger on what went wrong. Like Knoblauch, I tried many different approaches. I woke up early, stayed up late, read a lot, finished lots of coffee, stared at a blinking cursor, wrote and edited numerous drafts. Between it all, I lost the courage to click ‘publish’. My WordPress dashboard turned into a graveyard of half-written posts, many of them not worth rereading.
I began making decisions about what someone would find interesting before I had even put it down, which caused me to not put anything down at all. It was as if I was blogging for the first time. Doubt was heavy and influential.
I talked to my professor, a published author, about my block and my inability to write short blog posts, and she encouraged me to read E.B. White’s Writings From the New Yorker to find inspiration. I had every intention to do that, but with all of the other required reading for the semester, I never got around to it.
Back to square one.
A large part of my mental block was caused by the fear of using my blog in a way that lacked meaning and purpose. When I first created my blog, I had an email subscription list that enabled anyone who wanted to receive my blog posts in an email to do so. Many people signed up. When I decided to remove the feature, there was no way to prevent those who originally signed up from continuing to get my posts in their inbox.
So, the first question I always asked myself before writing anything was, “Is this worth it - or am I just spamming someone’s inbox?” Since I’m OCD about keeping my email inbox clean and spam-free, the answer was usually no. I realize that’s largely – or entirely – a “me” problem, however, being cognitively aware of that doesn’t really help.
A second mental block showed up in a familiar form for writers. Before I would write, I would often ask myself, “Does anyone really care?” The approval of an unknown audience never motivated me to write before, but for some reason, I became hypersensitive to perception. It was as if an emotional bank had penalized me for overdrawing on my virtual account of vulnerability.
Cognitively, I knew that my motivation to write was cemented in a solid foundation of selfless encouragement, but I felt like a character in the movie Inception, whose brain had been exposed to seeds of foreign thought. My answer to “does it really matter” was almost always a resounding no.
When I began writing about my illness here and at Cancerwise (.org), I experienced a lot of raw emotions, feelings, thoughts, and words that were easily expressed. As I became further removed from the clinical trial and reached a deep level of remission, life began to slowly become “normal” again.
I struggled a lot with that transition.
I often felt like, when my treatment was going well, talking about cancer was to lead others to a fishing hole of disingenuous pity and unqualified attention. Having cancer is difficult. To continually share experiences long after the expiration date of hardship is sometimes even more difficult. There’s a fine line between the struggle to overcome cancer and the struggle to adapt back into a world that doesn’t intimately know it.
As I began the process of blending back into a “normal” world, I felt like holding on to the cancer experience would be ill-perceived, even off-putting. That might not make sense, but neither did Chuck Knoblauch’s inability to make a 20 foot throw after receiving a slow ground ball to second base. The brain can sometimes be dumbfounding.
These two thoughts, along with a couple of other small obstacles, created the biggest and most frustrating writer’s block that I’ve ever had. I was supposed to blog often, but I froze and didn’t blog much at all. I’m not completely past the block yet, but I figured this would be a great start.
If you can identify with these type of blocks, or if you’ve even experienced your own, please share it with me in the comments below. I guess it’s something you just “get over”? Throw some ideas at me.