Friday, July 27, 2012

It Wasn't Writer's Block After All

English: Trying to illustrate the concept of n...
English: Trying to illustrate the concept of no bureaucracy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a goal of writing 1,000 words per day, but for the past week the well has run dry.  It’s not, mind you, traditional writer’s block; I currently have three book length projects working, and I know precisely where I want to go with each of them; what I want the characters to do, how they will change and develop in the course of the story, and, of course, enough plot twists hopefully to keep readers turning the page.  Yet, until I started this piece, I haven’t felt like writing.

I didn’t stop thinking, fortunately.  My mind works that way.  I’m always analyzing myself and others, trying to puzzle out why we do the things we do.  So, naturally, my mind has been working feverishly in the background on the issue of my not wanting to write as I usually do.

Finally, this morning as I was hacking my way around a golf course – my only outside activity other than photography – it hit me.  Right after hitting out of a bunker and leaving the ball hanging over the cup; one of those events that keep you going back again and again; instead of exulting in almost making a birdie, I realized why I was loathe to try something as creative as manipulating my characters through yet another of their unending adventures.  It had nothing to do with writing, and at the same time, everything.

I’ve been wrestling for years with being in a bureaucracy in my day job, and not ever feeling like I was an integral part of the traditional processes of bureaucracy.  As I prepare to end that phase of my life, after over fifty years of plying my trade, I’ve been thinking about what it’s been like being a square peg in a round hole for so long.  My mind has been going around in ever tighter circles as I’ve tried to understand what kept me at it so long; going wherever I was told to go, doing whatever job that was assigned, even at times when I didn’t totally believe in what I was doing.  Was it for the money?  Not likely.  An honest bureaucrat, and I like to think of myself as an honest person, will never get rich.  Was it the fame and notoriety?  What a laugh!  Bureaucrats, especially government workers, are the butt of many late night comedians’ jokes and the favorite target of politicians looking to score points in election campaigns.  The only time they get extensive media attention is when they mess up.

So, why did a farm boy from East Texas who just wanted to explore the world beyond the pine tree-covered red clay keep at it so long; and, why was he just thinking about it in the closing days of that long journey?  Worse; why was this mental exercise interfering with the one true love of his life, creating imaginary worlds to entertain the few readers he has managed over the years to accumulate?

In my case, as I realized during the few milliseconds it took to tap in that par putt, it really had more to do with a desire to do something meaningful than with just exploring the world.  I realized at that moment that, despite the fact that the bureaucracy can sometimes seem like a soulless entity with no feelings for humans at all, the times when I’ve been able to actually make a difference in someone’s life, and only those directly affected even knew about it, were what it was all about.  When I look at the balance sheet, the bureaucratic battles that have left me frustrated and angry at times are outweighed by the incidents when my actions have brought comfort to some individual who needed comforting; when I was able to circumvent the normal bureaucratic red tape to get something done when others were using rules and regulations to thwart it.  That brief moment of gratitude from a citizen, often forgotten before the sun rises the next day, have made it all worth it; so the well wasn’t dry after all; just a momentary blockage that needed the patient application of a little plumber’s helper to remove. 

So, it wasn’t actually writer’s block at all; just a brief period when my brain had to deal with another issue.  Now that it’s out of the way, all I can say is look out world, here I come again.

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Charles Ray is a writer of a number of works of fiction, including the popular Al Pennyback mystery series, and is a featured travel writer for Yahoo! Voices. He is also Diplomatic Editor for Asnycnow Radio.