What to do When you Can’t Find the Words?

On writing about this bizarre reality

Although it’s always been that way, we never realized it until the pandemic happened: No one ever knows what happens next. All we could do was schedule and plan and we did that with gusto and obsessiveness but now we can’t do that anymore.

We optimized productivity and wrote about it. We optimized creativity and wrote about it. We optimized vulnerability and wrote about it.

We strived relentlessly toward the pursuit of writerly happiness, the exposure, the bylines, the money. Writing was going to be our savior, redeeming us from our many mental, physical, and financial woes. Writing was going to be our roadmap to success. Writing was going to be our way to claim our spot in the world, at last.

Perhaps you felt like you never really had one, perhaps you were always at a remove, perhaps you existed in a different dimension altogether.

Writing was going to be the mothership that takes you home.

And so you became a slave to the page, a scribe to the tribe of similar hopefuls whose visions of success were closely aligned with your own. At first, finding a few people with whom your words resonated with was a pleasant surprise. But when you remained amongst yourselves, a small group of like-minded folks on the edge of the action, you began to wonder.

If the internet was where the magic happened, it seemed it was contingent upon selling dreams.

So you bought them.

And then a pandemic happens and the internet becomes our lifeline. We turn to our screens to try and make sense of what’s going on. We also realize now may be the best time to knuckle down and write our heart out if we’re to stand a chance of surviving.

You will yourself to keep going despite exhaustion, despite distress, despite pain. The pain of precariousness, the pain of isolation, the pain of illness. Out of consideration for others, you try not to dwell on absolute horror that is watching your life fall apart in slow motion.

Because you still believe you can write your way out of anything only the words won’t come anymore.

The ideas won’t come anymore.

The emotions won’t come anymore.

You’re either numb from the brain down or in so much constant discomfort what you feel transcends language.

You look to the page for meaning and it stares back at you blankly.

You find yourself spending inordinate amounts of time gazing at screens and taking stock of discarded dreams. When you think of writing, you’re anywhere between nausea, embarrassment, and despair. Corralling your attention into words is harder than ever.

Writing was going to be the mothership that takes you home.

The internet dreams you bought do not work for you because someone sold you theirs.

And you made them come true while yours withered away.

No one can silence you but you. As long as you believed the mothership would come for you, you were doing fine. You were enjoying your journey home with occasional bursts of trepidation. Home was going to be new horizons you have never glimpsed yet, discoveries, epiphanies, and plenitude.

You would at last be fulfilled creatively and intellectually.

Writing was going to free you from your shackles, whatever they may be, but it enslaved you instead, always demanding more of you. Because growth, but not necessarily in the sense you originally hoped writing would help you grow.

There’s your disconnect right here. The prophets of profit who sold you their dreams tell you worth is a dollar figure so growth is an ever bigger dollar figure.

Have you considered that what works for them may not work for you?

What if you have another vision of home?

The home you’ve tasked writing with taking you to doesn’t exist yet so you get to imagine it.

Curiosity if why you write. You began to string words together because you wondered what they could do and when they began to do something, you kept going.

Because you wanted to know what might happen next and you still do. There isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t even though we’re utterly terrified of this great big unknown we suspect is not going to be very pleasant.

When you spend some time imagining the future, the words you’ve been looking for will come back, let them, don’t judge. Just write them down as fast as you can and see how they make you feel.

There will be enthusiasm and some amount of hope.

Instead of reporting on what is, you can focus on what could be.

Write a future, any future that doesn’t look like the present that almost made you lose your love of words.

Nurture and protect that love, it’s your voice.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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