02/24/2016 03:49 pm ET Updated Feb 24, 2017

Working Out of Writer's Block

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I love writing. I love sitting down in front of a blank screen and watching words appear on it. Sometimes, I am surprised but what comes out. I am not saying that I don't know what I am writing, I am saying that sometimes it flows so well I feel like I am reading something as opposed to writing it. Sometimes it is that easy. Other times it is like what I would imagine it is like to pass a mango-size kidney stone. I mean minus the extreme pain, screaming and hospitalization. Sometimes it is difficult and sometimes it is almost impossible to get anything readable to appear on my screen. The last couple of weeks have been like that.

I have no idea why I have been blocked lately. Life here percolates with activity and I learn things from my boys every day. Sometimes the mental digestive process just locks up. I have found that the best way to remedy this is to be patient and look around.

A few days ago I reposted a Valentine's Day piece from three years ago. I needed something to go on the blog. The next day I sat in my chair looking at my screen from rock bottom. Really? I couldn't think of something fun, witty or insightful to write about Valentines Day? Seriously? I mean the old piece was good, but it just seemed like a punt. I had to start writing. I opened a blank blog page with the intent of writing my way out of it. I looked at it. I looked at it some more. I went to the bathroom and when I came back it was still there. As I looked at it Eli, my 6-year-old, walked out of the 'Man Cave' next to my office and stood next to me.

"Hi Dad."

"Hi buddy."

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"I am writing, son."

"No you aren't," he said. "You are just sitting there."

"I am writing," I insisted.

"When you write your fingers do this," he insisted as he moved his fingers along an imaginary keyboard. "When you write words go on the screen and there are no words on your screen," he pointed out. "You are not writing."

"Writing is complicated Eli." I felt blocked enough without Eli showing me how I wasn't engaging in the creative process.

"No it's not," Eli said matter-of-factly. "You type on your keyboard and words come out. Simple." He maneuvered between my desk and chair and climbed on my lap.

"I am thinking about what to write," I explained with a level of patience I wasn't necessarily feeling.

"You have been thinking a long time."

"I know."

"A very, very long time."

"Eli . . ."

"Like the longest time ever that anybody has every thinked about writing . . ."

"Elijah . . ."

" . . . that is how long you have been thinking about writing."

"Thank you son, I am aware that nothing is coming out," I said. I swallowed my irritation. I had no business being irritated with Eli. I was irritated with myself. I hugged him close. "Sometimes you just have to stare at the screen and wait."

"OK," he said. He settled against my chest and stared at the screen. I thought about our discussion and tried to let my mind drift. I considered a few angles then realized Eli was being very quiet.

"What are you doing, Eli?" I asked.

"Helping you stare at the screen," he whispered. "I thought that if we both did it some words would come out quicker."

I smiled. "Thank you, buddy."

"You are welcome," he whispered.

"Why are we whispering?" I whispered back.

"I don't want to scare away the words," he said.

I smiled again. "Makes sense."

We stared for a few more minutes. Charlie, Eli's older brother, came out of the 'Man Cave' where they had been playing. "Dad, do we have a machete?"

"I beg your pardon . . .?"

"A machete?" he repeated. "It's like a huge knife."

"I know what a machete is," I said. "No, we don't . . . we don't have a machete."

"OK," he pondered for a moment. "How about a saw?"

I blinked. "No . . . we are fresh out of saws."

"I think we do have one . . ."

"No we don't," I said with that tone of finality that I inherited from my parents. "Why do you need a machete or a saw?" I couldn't fathom a situation that he would need either one, let alone where one could be substituted for another. That's not true. I could imagine it and that was the problem.

"He wants to machete or saw something," Eli whispered from my lap. He was still staring at the screen hoping to coax some words onto it. Apparently he was also still practicing the stealthy approach.

"Why do you need those things?" I repeated.

Charlie shrugged. "I was just wondering." He tromped upstairs.

Eli and I continued our screen-staring. He suggested I try rubbing his back. He was pretty sure that words would come out if I gave him a back rub. I don't need to be coerced into rubbing Eli or Charlie back. It is one of my life's simple pleasures. Several minutes later Charlie came back down stairs. Charlie is at an awkward age. He is man-size big but still a little boy in his motor skill applications. Among other issues this raises is that fact when he comes down stairs he sounds like he is falling down them. He appeared at the bottom of the stairs and headed into the 'Man Cave'. He was wearing shorts instead of pants, his older brother's Michigan State jacket and his ever-present stocking cap complete with pom pom on top. In his hands were another stocking cap and a piece of paper.

"Charlie," I stopped him. "Why did you change out of your pants?"

"I was done wearing them."

"Ok, why the jacket?"

"I was cold."

"But you took off your long pants and put on shorts."


"But you put on a jacket."

He exhaled. "Because I was cold."

Ok . . . Ok . . . I hear you out there . . . I could have just asked why he would take off his long pants if he was cold. I wanted him to discover the delicious irony of his actions on his own. In my way of thinking it is the difference between giving him a fish and teaching him to fish. I know . . . I do it to myself.

"I changed into my shorts and got cold so I put on a jacket," he smiled. Perfectly reasonable.

"Why did you get another stocking cap," I asked.

"In case I lose the one I am wearing," he answered without the least hint of a smile.

"How would you lose the one you are wearing?"

He shrugged.

"What is that piece of paper?" I asked.

"I was looking at it upstairs."

"Why did you bring it down?"

He looked down at the paper in his hand. "Apparently I forgot to let go of it."

"Please go play."

"Ok." He dropped the paper on the floor and walked into the 'Man Cave'. I just looked at it for a minute.

Eli slid off my lap. "Sorry Dad," he said. "I didn't get any words on your screen. I am going to go play."

I smiled at him as he disappeared into the room. I had a feeling that my block was almost at an end. It only took a few minutes with my boys to stop overthinking things. I tend to over-complicate a lot of things in my life. Writing should be the least complicated thing I do. Like my relationship with my sons, writing is a task of joy and happiness with occasional rough patches. In both cases devotion and patience are required for it to work right. I reached down to pick up the piece of paper that Charlie remembered to let go of.

"Dad, we have an ax, right?"

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