Writer’s Block: World Cup Edition

Posted by on Jun 20, 2014 in Business Writing, Creative Writing | 1 comment

Writer’s Block: World Cup Edition

I’m going to let you all in on a secret. If you’re a writer, it’s a secret that’s going to make you outright want to slap me across the ears. It’s a secret that I’m sure many writers keep, but almost no one wants to admit for fear of being ostracized by other writers. Ready? I’m going to lower the boom.

I’ve never had writer’s block.

I know, I know, what a bleephole, right? Writer’s block is a rite of passage. You’re not a writer if you haven’t stared blankly into the backwaters of your mind for hours, days, weeks in an attempt to reel in the perfect idea. How dare you claim it’s never happened? HOW DARE YOU!

All right, I lied. I lied. In fact, it happened to me just today as I tried to come up with something to write about this week. Unlike a lot of writers, I’m not a fountain of ideas, so my main source of anxiety in relation to this blog tends to revolve around coming up with a different subject every Thursday morning. There’s some dread there. Not a lot of dread. A very tiny bit of dread. You probably wouldn’t notice it unless you were peering into a microscope. Yup, there’s definitely some dread in there. And some microbes. And mold spores.

Sometimes things jump out at me. Hey, you just spent a few days on the set of a TV pilot you wrote. You should write about that! What a great idea, italics! But most of the time, it’s not that easy. A lot of times I’ll get suggestions from other writers, readers, and most often my sister, who manages this blog. (Hi Kelly) But sometimes she’s busy location scouting for commercials all week, so I’m left to my own devices. And you know what my device has been this week?

Soccer.

I don’t in fact know if soccer is a device. In fact I’m pretty sure it’s not. In most circles it’s considered a sport. But I do use a device to turn on the television in order to watch soccer, so I’m pretty sure that counts.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the world AT ALL since last Monday, there’s a soccer tournament going on in Brazil that’s kind of a big deal. Like if you ran into it at a party, it would be that guy with the sunglasses clipped to his Polo who sips on his martini and tells you, “I don’t know if you realize, but I’m kind of a big deal.” And he actually is a big deal instead of most of the piss ants at parties who tell you they’re a big deal but they actually sell after-market car stereos out of their cousin’s van.

I’m going to freely admit, I’m the worst kind of USA bandwagon soccer fan there is. I’m the guy who doesn’t pay attention whatsoever for damn near four years but when the World Cup begins, I watch EVERY SINGLE GAME. I’m the guy who has no idea what the difference is between a fullback and a midfielder but runs home from the gym so I don’t miss a single minute of Belgium vs. Algeria. And then I spend the entire match thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe Algeria is up one to nill,” (I even use nill instead of zero like some speedo wearing European) Also, I amuse myself by pretending to be the British announcer and saying things like, “Wow, look at all those Belgians! That’s quite a lot of Belgians, Roger,” because I don’t know any actual soccer phrases other than “Well, Suarez sure played a good ball there,” and “What a terrible ball by Suarez.”

So what does the World Cup have to do with writer’s block? Well, quite a lot actually. First of all, soccer is amazing in that it’s about the only team sport you can watch while simultaneously focusing on other things. This makes it absolutely ideal to have on in the background while you’re writing. Even soccer fans will admit that a large portion of every game is dedicated to things ALMOST happening.

“My God, Roger, the chap from the Netherlands almost got free there. If it weren’t for the six defenders in the way, he could’ve really mounted a challenge!”

You can turn away from the game for ten to fifteen minutes at a time and literally miss nothing. Try writing during a hockey game. Impossible.

In order to prove my point, I’m going to use actual statistics rather than emotion and pure speculation. The other day Mexico played Brazil in what was widely described as one of the most exciting games of the tournament’s first week. (We’ll look past the fact that the final score ended up nill to nill) Why was it so exciting? Because the Mexican goalkeeper made spectacular save after spectacular save to keep the Brazilians off the board. I mean, in soccer terms, he was under constant bombardment, fending off shot after shot, not letting a single ball cross the line. At the end of the game, I wondered just how many saves he’d made. It had to have been an insane number. And it was. But not for the reasons I anticipated. The number was indeed insane. Because that number was…

Six.

The guy had made six saves. And it was like the most saves a Mexican goalie had made in the World Cup since 1950. SIX! Now let’s say Brazil had four other amazing chances that barely missed the net. And let’s say Mexico had seven or eight amazing chances as well during the match. That averages out to be one moderately interesting thing happening every five minutes or so. That’s more than enough time to write a paragraph or an entire block of dialogue. The key is to have the volume down so low that you only notice when the crazy British announcer starts raising his voice…

“And here we go, Hammarschlooben making a run toward the box…”

This is where you quit writing and look up.

“And oh….oh, his shot goes forty feet over the crossbar. We almost had some real honest to Christmas action there, Roger.”

What’s the second thing that soccer has to do with writing? Well, I’m not sure yet. But as I was dreading this blog, I had a curious thought. What if I write something about the World Cup? I’ve dedicated disturbingly large chunks of my day to it. Surely there has to be something I can do to merge writing tips with the world’s largest soccer tournament. It’ll be easy.

That was Sunday afternoon. Sunday night came and went.

Monday – Nuthin’.

Tuesday – Nada

Wednesday – Nah, bro.

It’s now Thursday morning. I’ve watched parts of twelve matches since then. I’m set to watch England vs. Uruguay here this afternoon and I haven’t thought of a single thing to write. I still haven’t come up with that perfect idea to meld the World Cup with writing in any meaningful way.

Oh wait. Wait a second. I have over a thousand words here. It may not be the most informative piece I’ve ever written, but it’s moderately entertaining and makes a pretty good point if I do say so myself. What’s that point you ask?

Writer’s block is bullshit.

Yeah, you heard me. Writer’s block is crap. It’s something writers invent to torture themselves into feeling superior when all they’re really doing is putzing around. Other professions get this too. But you never hear of mathematician’s block or contractor’s block. Why? Because they explore all their options, make a decision and freaking go with it. They don’t just sit there sipping coffee and staring at their keyboard going, “Well no use now, I got the block.”

Great ideas don’t often come about when you’re putting pressure on yourself to come up with great ideas. They hit when you’re not thinking about it. Like when you’re watching a bunch of Ecuadorians you’ve never heard of kick a ball from sideline to sideline for nineteen straight minutes.

Writer’s block is only the monster you think it is because we’ve given it a name. Now it’s something tangible that we all have to battle instead of what it actually is – a very temporary lack of direction. Taking the soccer reference way too far, it only happens when you’re focused on the five guys in the wall in front of your free kick instead of how easily you can bend the ball around them. It doesn’t do any damn good to keep drilling the ball straight into the wall of bodies. It’s not going to go through.

Here’s a crazy suggestion – if you have “writer’s block,” just go ahead and start writing. Start typing the random crap that pops into your head. Don’t worry about where it’s going or if it fits in with your theme or tertiary story arc. Get your mind working. Free the blockage. Maybe you’ll realize that writing really is like soccer. Sometimes like Clint Dempsey versus Ghana, you score a goal almost immediately. But a majority of the time, it takes a lot of boring passes through the midfield probing the defense for weakness before you bury one in the back of the net. It’s all part of the process. And like soccer, sometimes that process is very, very slow. But that’s ok. It’s all part of the game.

And if all that fails, just flop to the ground and roll around holding your shin with an anguished look on your face. I’ve heard that works.

One Comment

  1. I agree with you Grandpa Hank. Writer’s block is a self-fulfilling myth. As a teacher I couldn’t afford “teacher’s block.” When I had a great idea that planning and experience brought to a satisfying effort during 2nd period I could not sit back and feel that I was going to cruise through the rest of the day because 4th period would show up and the same plot would not work at all. I could not stand there staring at 30 faces hoping that a colleague would randomly pass me a new idea that I could score with. You just need to keep on keeping on. Talent will lead you to an idea and experience will help you make it work.
    Even during those long stretches of “soccer block” where nothing seems to be happening there are always things occurring that lead eventually to goals. If the players just stood around thinking about their next move and hoping for inspiration you might as well be watching a chess match.
    P.S Six saves! Marc-Andrea Fluery could write a couple of chapters for his autobiography while making only six saves. I know that ¾ of the world thinks that not liking soccer is a jingoistic reflex of most Americans. They confuse not liking with hating. I’m fine with their being passionate about their game but they need to stop being insecure in their passion and quit being paranoid about others not sharing their passion. My sport of choice for having long stretches where very little happens is baseball. “There’s smash by Collins, oh, right at Murphy at 2nd. Easy toss to Matthews at first. Inning over. Let’s pause for station identification.” Just saying.

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