Having an idea feels like having the flu, if slightly less unpleasant. My mind feels full and congested – I can’t think of anything else. It’s like having a song stuck in my head, but instead of music it’s just paragraph after paragraph after paragraph dancing in my skull. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, my stomach feels too light for my body. It’s a systemic infection, and the only relief is to write it out.
If inspiration is the flu, writing is throwing up. The process is strictly unpleasant, but the sense of relief, of purity, it provides is worth it. I write urgently, purgingly. There is no peace in the actual writing, just me retching my ideas into a notebook at 4am so I can finally sleep. The relief comes after, with my head clear and the page full. Only then can I brush the taste out of my mouth and move on.
I’ve heard people talk about nurturing ideas, letting them gestate and grow inside you, but I’ve never been able to keep anything in. I think my ideas are too violent for that, or my mind too inhospitable. With pen in hand or fingers on keys, I drag my words, bloody and screaming, out into the world.
My writer’s block isn’t having nothing to write about, it’s needing to write so badly that the words block up my head, block out the ability to do anything else. Sometimes I dread these spells. They’re so violent, so all-consuming, so visceral. They leave me exhausted and feeling like I’ve just undergone an exorcism.
A week or so after the exhaustion fades, I start to worry. Have I lost my ability to write? Will it ever come back? I long to feel the sickness, I look for it everywhere. I crave it. When it returns, I reach for a notebook, ready to vomit, to purge, to write. I’ll feel better soon.
Title is from The Engine Driver by The Decemberists