This story appears in Gary Lloyd’s book, Valley Road: Uplifting Stories from Down South. Get it here.
I won’t sugarcoat it — writer’s block stinks.
It causes me several reactions. There’s staring at the blank screen until I give up, walking outside, doing something else entirely, and reading old articles and book excerpts. Writer’s block is tough. Mostly, it just has to pass, like a dull headache.
I have battled it many times. When I lived with my parents, I’d go out to the driveway and shoot hoops. In my grandmother’s former home, where I moved a couple years after college, I’d walk across the street with a rusted Cleveland sand wedge and a few golf balls, and work on my short game. It never much improved.
At our current home, when writer’s block sets in, I shoot hoops on the goal my wife bought for me for our anniversary, do some yard work or sit and read on the back deck. Sometimes, these hobbies help. Sometimes, they don’t, and I purposefully forget what I’m working on for a few days.
I know quite a few people who often work with their hands, who slide under their truck and change their own oil. I know, to them, this writing thing must seem frivolous, sitting in a cushioned chair in the air conditioning. But believe me, it’s difficult, in its own ways. I trade in grease and oil stains for red pen marks and carpal tunnel. I deal with the writer’s block and achy wrists because I love it.
Not long after I committed to writing my first book, my wife presented me with a small, navy-blue notebook. Its front and back covers are blanketed with the word “Write,” printed over and over again in cursive. I opened it, and she had written a Thomas Edison quote on the first page.
“If we did all things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves.”
Under that, she told me to prepare to astonish myself, and that she was already proud of me. I was nervous, setting out on my first book project. I had, for a long time, wanted to write a book, but my fear of failure was too strong for me to open a Microsoft Word document. I often found the downfall in taking a leap like that: writing something uninteresting, work getting in the way, typos, quitting halfway through the project. But her gift energized me.
Our motivation for each other is a bit unconventional, I’ve learned. We don’t seem to push each other for the typical things, like spending thirty minutes on the treadmill or opting for the garden salad. No, our motivation seems to center around the fun things in life, the adventures. And it’s all her.
I wrote my best feature articles after I received that notebook. There was the one about the old skating rink owner, who died in a window of sunshine just up the road from her rink. There was the one about the old man who kept weather records for a lifetime, a story that became my favorite. There were the times I tried to pen my best game stories from the sidelines of Gadsden City High School and the diamond at Hewitt-Trussville High School, because she came, too, and I wanted to impress her. There was the story about the tour of an old high school, a venture I would likely not have pursued had she not been by my side that day. I knew how to be a serviceable reporter, to get the job done. She gave me the confidence to go the extra mile, to ask the introspective questions that often elicit the most colorful responses. She helped me connect with the people I interviewed, to relate with them.
I completed that first book in the winter of 2013, not long after we were married. When it came out the following spring, she framed a picture of its availability date, so that I could promote it. She went to all my book signings, and even played dozens of rounds of Hangman with me when no one showed up.
A couple years later, I told her about a novel I had written, one that helped me fill the time between college graduation and landing my first full-time job. It was unpublished, and rested in a black binder at home. She encouraged me to make it fictional, to write the ending the way I wanted. It was a story full of personal experiences, and she knew that. So, I took much of her advice, and published it in early 2016. She sat with me for hours designing the covers and getting the inside font just right.
At our most successful book event, I gave a talk beforehand, and she was the only person in a group of about thirty people who sat on the front row. I think she knew I needed her there, as if it was just me talking with her about those past experiences. I had been anxious on the drive to the event, but when I stepped behind the podium and saw her smiling at me, mouthing, “You got this,” I knew that the night would be a success.
I published my third book just a few months later, another fictional story that she designed the covers for. I was greased lightning at a keyboard for that book. I was so inspired, so passionate about the whole process.
There are two other books, true stories that are not yet published for the masses. Both would not be soon available without her. First, I always knew I had a great subject to write about in this football player, one who beat the odds to make it to the Southeastern Conference and then the NFL. I told her about it multiple times, and one night she just said, “Well, why don’t you ask him?” That terrified me. How do you call, text or email an NFL player and say, “Hey, man, do you remember that article I wrote about you that time? How do you feel about us turning it into a book?” She asked me what I had to lose. That simplified it for me, so I drummed up some courage and asked. The player told me that he had always wanted his life story turned into a book, but he had no clue how to go about it. A perfect match. That book should be out soon, thanks to her.
The other book soon to be published is about her father, who died in 2010. It will be the most important book my name is ever printed on. Her dad created a nonprofit organization that builds wheelchair ramps for those in need. I had heard her speak of it before, but I figured he and some church buddies had built a few dozen small ramps in their community. Wrong. In 2016, I found out that the organization had constructed more than five hundred wheelchair ramps. That truly shocked me. I told her that a story like that, of someone with a heart to do that much for strangers, would make a wonderful book. We talked it over with her mom, and she had also wanted to chronicle her husband’s life and accomplishments in a book, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. So, that’ll be out soon, too.
I’ve rambled on and on about the things I’ve written in the last few years. It all started with that navy-blue notebook from her. She had written to me to prepare to astonish myself, and I am. I am astonished at the people I have been blessed to write about, the worthy stories that would have likely gone untold. I am more astonished at her encouragement of me pursuing my dreams, at her understanding when I spend hours in our downstairs office on a sunny afternoon, at her patience when we sell two books in five hours at an event an hour north of home. I picked the “write” one, without adoubt.
As you can tell, writer’s block is no longer an issue.