I was setting down my bag and my drink at one corner of a large communal table in a Dark Horse espresso bar. A man of about my father’s age came over and asked me for help logging into the free wi-fi. We compared settings on our iPhones (I know, this story is ridiculous—please bear with me), but I couldn’t figure it out. I had come with a notebook and (please bear with me) a fountain pen, so I didn’t really need the free wi-fi.
The man went to the counter to ask for help, and came back to tell me what they told him. He was waiting for someone, and trying to make contact by email, evidently. I was eating my sandwich and staring at a blank opening in my notebook. He came back a third time, sidling apologetically up to the corner where I was sitting.
“One final imposition,” he said.
“Oh, no problem.” I gestured to the blank pages. “As you can see, I’m not really getting anywhere with this.”
“It’s not writer’s block, though,” he said. It was more of a suggestion than a question.
“No, not really.”
“It’s because I keep interrupting you.”
He had a point. I assured him that he didn’t.
He went on to ask me whether I could give his daughter a message if I should happen to see her come in. He was off to a different Dark Horse, he explained, because he thought he might have mistaken her directions about where to meet. I told him that I would pass on the message if I saw her.
Of course, after this, I couldn’t help watching for the daughter. I sat there scanning the people outside the window, wondering if I would recognize her based on his description, and how this would go if I did. The description was just detailed enough that I might have been able to identify the daughter, just vague enough that there was a real possibility of me making a fool of myself asking some random woman if she was looking for her father. Even if I got the right woman, it would be a strange encounter; there would almost certainly be a moment when she stared at me as if I were nuts. I sat there thinking about this—instead of writing.
It occurred to me that this experience was a lot like what actually happens to me when I get stuck on a piece of writing. When I find myself making no progress on a writing project, I don’t think of it in terms of Writer’s Block. I don’t think it’s because of some nebulous force that could be slain or exploded, or a disease that could be diagnosed or cured. It’s much more likely to be about the details. There might be a problem with the characters that needs sorting out. (What does the daughter look like? Will I be able to recognize her?) Or it might be a plot problem. (Will she appear at all? Is she already waiting at the other location?) It could even be a problem with the dialogue. (If she does arrive, what will I say to her? How will she respond?)
In the end, I’m sorry to say, the daughter never did come through the door. I do hope she was waiting at the other location and that they met up happily. Eventually I gave up watching for her and wrote the whole scene down in my notebook.