Writer’s Block—A Story

Gwen was so relieved that one of her authors—Julie Devon—had emailed her with the latest version of her book manuscript; it was so much easier to edit someone else’s manuscript than it was to keep writing her own. Gwen settled down at her computer and opened Julie’s response to her structural recommendations. What a joy.
Gwen had reached a place where her own story just wasn’t working. She knew how she wanted her book to be when it was complete, but she couldn’t make the leap across the enormous chasm that now separated her from where her heroine Isabelle had reached, to where she was going. Gwen thought she knew where Isabelle would be at the end of the story. The author was stuck and she didn’t know how Isabelle would travel that piece of uncharted terrain. But she wasn’t ready to give up on Isabelle; they’d already travelled too far together to part ways.
What did that book by another of Gwen’s authors say? “Follow your path to find your destination.”
How could she follow her path if she didn’t know where or what the path was? How could she trust the mystery sufficiently to find her path in the first place? She knew her destination, or she thought she did, but ….
She’d have to forget all about it, give up the struggle, let it go. Let it marinate awhile in her subconscious.
Gwen found herself thinking instead about the recent talk by the university professor. He’d put a simple line on the whiteboard, a simple straight line with “A” on the left end, “B” on the right end, and “X” in the middle. He said all writing went like that: “A” was the idea at the beginning as to how the writer expected the whole story would go; “B” would be the result.
“B would be,” Gwen reflected with a laugh!
But “X” always happened somewhere. The story would fall apart. Either the timeline wouldn’t work or one of the characters wouldn’t stick to the storyline or another idea would take over.[1]
In which case, “B” wouldn’t be!
Was all life like this? Living with expectations of where we want to end up? Finding ourselves somewhere else altogether? A student goes to university to study Canadian literature and she comes out with a degree in criminology. A young man who graduates as an engineer becomes a building contractor. A couple gets married, has children, and divorces. How do these things happen? How does life throw us such curveballs? And why? And what are we meant to do with them?
Gwen stopped asking herself questions, questions for which she had no answers. She settled in, fingers on her keyboard, to see how Julie had changed her manuscript.


It was later in the day when Gwen found herself daydreaming in the garden with a trowel in her hand and a cup of rooibos tea on a low wall nearby. She was watching a bee go from one blue snapdragon flower to another, lazily, unknowingly, yet busily pollinating each flower as he went.[2]
She found herself recalling—or was she thinking this for the first time?—a list of ways of travelling—by car, by bike, by tuk-tuk like that writer who had visited Thailand, by train, by coach, by horse, by swimming, by rowing, by sledding, by skiing, by foot. By camel, by elephant. By turtle?
She suddenly remembered a story she’d heard of a man who had to cross a raging river wearing only one set of clothes and carrying a briefcase full of important papers, and how he’d stripped down to the bone and held his clothes and his briefcase over his head while he ventured out into the torrent and struggled against nature. It had taken him far longer than he’d expected, but he’d arrived on the far bank safe, sound, and wet. His papers and his clothes were safe, sound, and dry. It had happened in Australia during spring floods.
What an idea!
Gwen dropped her trowel and ran inside. A pen and paper on a clipboard were always best when the muse struck her like this. She wanted to capture this list of ways to travel before it disappeared in the late rays of the afternoon sun. She found a couple of sheets of once-used paper. She would write on their backs.
She hurried back to where the list had started to compile itself. She’d found that was always the best place to recall something: where she’d first thought of it. More was coming. In what mood might the journey take place? This was important. It, too, was tied to her book somehow. How to answer that question? Well, she thought, in a hurry, lazily, with something else as the goal, in an anxious state to get away from a bees’ nest, a hornets’ nest. How else? With an injury, half dressed, carrying a watering can, with a shopping basket, as part of a dream. So many new possibilities jumped to her mind.
Gwen’s list kept growing; there was a way to correlate these two lists. She knew there would be. Her confidence and excitement was growing palpably.
A third set of categories announced itself: timeframes. Today, earlier, tomorrow, next week, in a decade, a week and a half ago, in five minutes’ time. Time stretched itself back for an eternity, forward for longer. Where did she fit on that continuum? Where did her story fit? Did all its elements fit in the same direction?
Gwen shivered. The sun was going down and a light evening breeze told her that the air was cooling. She went inside, opened the fridge, and started taking out the ingredients to make herself a light supper—vegetable soup from yesterday, fried zucchinis, liver paté, and a crusty loaf of whole grain bread.
Sitting at the table with a soup spoon in hand, Gwen looked at her three lists again. That was it. They were the answer. Those lists she’d been writing were providing the answer to her blockage. If Isabelle went back in time during a really vivid dream, she would find her way once more, across the chasm to her destination, across the raging river from one bank to the other, her ideas ready.
Gwen couldn’t wait to apply her new ideas to Isabelle’s path. She put down her soup spoon, left the table, and went into her office. She opened the file called “Isabelle” and put her fingers on her keyboard.
[1] With permission from the professor mentioned—Wayde Compton, a Vancouver author who is the associate director of Creative Writing at Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies, where he administrates the Writer’s Studio and the Southbank Writer’s Program.
[2] Photo of bee pollinating snapdragons taken by Grant Lau found on USDA Forest Service site.