I can’t write fiction anymore. I noticed it began late last week when I sat down to write a short story about a group of friends trading stories over dinner. It was a dialogue-heavy piece and I had fun writing it – until I read it back after I finished and it in no way resembled anything I had remembered writing down. In fact, all that was on the page was a recipe for turkey chili.
I mean, I can think about fiction, I can make stories up in my head all I want. I often do. When they’re up there (in my head) they seem fine. They’re nuanced, they’re complete, and they have fully developed characters – characters with emotion, with personality, with motives. At least that part still works.
It’s when I go to put those words on the page (or, more accurately, the screen) that everything stops working. It’s certainly not writer’s block. I can still write – oh how I can write – but it’s not the same. It’s not fiction that ends up coming out. I don’t know what it is, but if it’s not fiction then what is it? Is it truth? Is there no in-between? No gray, middle area, a murky no-man’s land of undetermined veracity?
I suppose there might be.
So I end up sitting there for hours on end, the little black cursor blinking, taunting, knowing that no matter what I type into that blank field, it’s going to spit back my grocery list for the week, or a list of birds indigenous to New England It’s an odd condition to have, I’ll give you that. Like only being able to read words backwards or being able to sing any song in the world from memory, but only in Spanish.
I crosschecked my symptoms on WebMD the other night. In the search bar, I typed:
“no longer capable of writing fiction”
I don’t want to get into it in detail right now, but the bottom line is that I need to drink a lot of fluids and notify my primary care physician if my condition worsens over the next 48 hours.
So we’ll see what happens. I’m not too optimistic though. I remember reading a story once from this guy on Reddit who said he was incapable of writing non-fiction for six years. Now I realize that his condition was the exact opposite of what I’m experiencing, so it might not be related at all, but SIX YEARS! Said it made it nearly impossible for him to pass his college courses because he kept writing complete and utter fictional nonsense on all of his papers, midterms and finals. Just complete, 100% unfiltered bullshit.
He still managed to graduate in four years by cheating his way through, but that’s beside the point.
Anyway, I hope this doesn’t last that long. I have things to write, stories that need to be told. For now they’re safe inside my head, but who knows how long they’ll stay up there? I’m afraid to remember anything new now because I can’t shake the feeling that new thoughts will push the old stories out, so I’ve started writing down everything that I need to remember.
Grocery lists, little nuggets of information scattered around the house on yellow Post-It notes, song lyrics scribbled on the backs of ATM receipts and business cards – it’s getting to be a bit much.
I don’t know, maybe I’m making this out to be a bigger deal than it really is. Maybe I’m being a “hypochondriac” or whatever they call it. There’s still plenty of stuff to write that isn’t fiction. I like writing about sports, that’s not fiction. I can still do my job. I can write Thank You cards, those are mostly non-fiction. I can write wedding toasts and instruction manuals and press releases.
So yeah, I guess it could be a lot worse. But it doesn’t mean I’m not struggling with it. I struggle every day; it’s like I have to teach myself how to write all over again. Of course, there’s always the possibility that tomorrow everything will be back to normal again. Maybe I’ll sweat it out in my sleep and awaken in a slick puddle of words and half-remembered truths. Maybe I’ll fire up the laptop and be able to jot down a few pieces of made-up, fictional garbage and it will actually come out looking like that on paper, instead of a word-for-word reproduction of the seating manifest from a 1987 Delta flight to Stockholm. Maybe whatever is causing this creative blockage will become dislodged in a coughing fit along with a few popcorn kernels.
Because everyone loves fiction. Fiction is the fun guy at the party, fiction is the dream you have that you hate waking up from, fiction is the spiked punch bowl and the booze-filled piñata. Non-fiction is functional. It’s your 9-5 commute, your morning cup of coffee, an unexpected smile that breaks up the monotony of a cold Monday morning. We love it, but sometimes we need more – we need that fiction.
But this right here? This is not a work of fiction.
Learn more about Rob Moreschi.
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