Soundtracking: Writer's block

Monday, January 1, 2018 - 6:55pm


Illustration by Michelle Phillips

So I may or may not have stared at a blank Google Doc page for hours on end trying to write this column. I don't consider this column about not being able to think of a column "phoning it in."

I consider it making the most out of what I was given  which was a laptop, a deadline and early 2000s bops floating around in my brain.

Between my essay-steeped course load, working at The Daily, drafting plays and scenes and attempting to record some songs every now and again, it’s safe to say I write a lot. I have to. As someone who can barely say two words without making a fool of himself or cracking a half-baked joke to get out of an awkward conversation, writing gives me something physical to grasp onto. You can take your time when you’re writing. The language can flow onto the page in one swift breeze but you have the ability to go back and comb through the word vomit. You can’t go back and revise a conversation; this isn’t the fun-for-all-ages comedy “Click” starring the immaculate Adam Sandler.

Sometimes when I’m writing, I feel as though I’m drunk. I blink and words suddenly appear on my page. I feel this way right now. Sometimes your drunken stints of text turn into complete and utter garbage. You look back and think, “What the hell was I thinking?”

All Bad — J.I.D ft. Mereba

But sometimes you strike gold. On rare occasions, you reread your work and it isn’t the worst shit you’ve ever seen. It could even be good like when you play “Tipsy Chef” and become the Gordon Ramsey of drunk food — I still stand by my pretzels and chocolate milk combo and I will never change.

I surprise myself a lot. Like for instance, I’m genuinely shook that I’ve been able to write this much. It took quite awhile.

Here’s your daily dose of Julie Andrews:

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

No Title — Corbin

The title is arguably the hardest part of writing for me. I have trouble starting a piece if the title is blank. I also have trouble condensing something I’ve just finished drafting into a short title that represents the entire work. Like how the hell do people come up with autobiography titles? You’re basically writing your own epitaph. You’re summarizing the story of your life in a max of five words.

Mine would probably be “So White You Need Sunglasses: An Autobiography.”

After wracking my brain for an hour or so on this column, looking through my Spotify for songs and scrolling through Facebook because I’m weak, I decide I need to get out of the house.

I can’t write at home. Some find solace in the familiar. I’d rather be at a coffee shop or somewhere in public so I feel bad if people see me scrolling through a news feed or reading an article on David Bowie’s 100 favorite novels when I should be working.

I hop in my car and drive. I need to get far enough away from home where it will be too long of a drive home if the column isn’t done. A coffee shop is ideal. As I drive with no specific destination in mind, I pass by the primary example of cookie-cutter chain coffee shops. I can’t say the specific one here but let’s just say it rhymes with Barbucks. No one will be any the wiser. I am not about to stop there.

Fuck the Industry — Solange

I keep going until I remember my favorite little spot in metro Detroit. It’s about 15 minutes away from my house but worth the hike. Amazing and cheap coffee, huge reading room, comfy chairs, a portrait of George Washington in the bathroom — what else could I ever need? I pull up, park and head inside to find the reading room completely empty. 10/10 for this idea.

Many afternoons have been spent taking friends around, ultimately stopping here for an hour or two to talk around our mugs, read, write, play card games or do whatever our caffeine-fueled hearts desired.

I’ve never been disappointed by the confines of this coffee shop.

Never Let me Down — Kanye West ft. Jay-Z and J. Ivy

Upon arriving, I think I’ll be able to crank out this column in no time.

Wrong. Dead wrong.

My fingers rest on the keys. I never learned how to really type with all fingers so the position feels awkward. I close my eyes and expect ideas to flow from my brain to my hands to the keyboard to the screen. Instead, I can’t get the image of a specific music video out of my head.

I remember watching this video on VH1’s “Top 20 Countdown” for a couple weeks. If I had to say so, I’d say it was a certified bop. It slaps. It bangs. Every word you can think of to describe a jam, this song fits the bill. It’s all I can think of. My column ideas go out one ear and this tune goes in the other.

I regret nothing.

The Sweet Escape — Gwen Stefani ft. Akon

Akon’s refrain and Gwen’s “woohoo, yeehoo” won’t leave me alone. I can’t focus on the column.

I rely on my coffee to drive me through and actually help me escape “The Sweet Escape.” I need that extra jolt to push my brain cells away from 2006 Gwen Stefani and towards my column deadline. When I go to buy a cup, the woman behind the register waves me away when I try to pay.

“The register’s on the fritz. You’re all good,” she says.

My heart melts. Free coffee? I take this to be a sign of some power greater than my understanding. If this safe haven of literature and caffeine can grace me with free coffee, I can finish this column. When I sit back down, I close my eyes once again. This time, I feel that drunken haze I get when a writing storm is brewing start to fall over me. I am ready to get to work.

Liberation — SiR ft. Anderson .Paak

Ultimately, the coffee and the unwavering stare from George Washington’s portrait peering through the open bathroom door drive me to finish this piece. It is not my proudest work but it is also not the worst piece of writing I have ever attached my name to.

In conclusion, my recommendation, as the textbook-definition of a rookie writer, would be if you ever suffer from writer’s block, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Get away from where you sleep. Writing in bed will break the crucial gap between home and work, which is no good in my book.
  2. Something to drink gives you a quick reprieve from thinking. Be it coffee, water, alcohol or anything in between, raising a glass to your lips physically stops you from writing and can be the perfect pause you need before you dive back in.
  3. Always keep a portrait of George Washington handy. It’s something about the eyes that says “Keep writing, asshole.”