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Chapter 173: In search of a writing mojo

June 30, 2022
Chevy Chase, Maryland

This poor, forsaken blog.

I find myself talking to Emmett Wilson every day in my mind. Mostly, I’m saying, “I’m sorry, Emmett. I haven’t forgotten your story. I will continue to work on it, never fear. I promise to finish it.”

I’m not ignoring my research; I’m not ignoring the writing, either, but somewhere in the last three months, I’ve lost the writing mojo.

I cannot tell you how many times I sit down every day to start the next section, or, to plan out the next chapter. The inspiration and fire that used to be there isn’t there right now, and it makes me sad, and scared, honestly. This story is mostly written in my head, and in my notes, but it isn’t coming out on the keyboard through my fingers. And I’ve tried a lot of different ways to motivate myself psychologically and caffienatedly.

Sigh.

The motivation isn’t there right now.

I can tell you that there’s been a lot of distraction lately; mostly, from things I can neither control nor change. The distractions bring up terrible feelings of anxiety and stress, which saps my mental and emotional energies like you have no idea. When I feel the mental and emotional stress, I do something physical, like swim laps or work out, which helps, but when I come home, the pile of folders and unfinished drafts, are still on my desk, gathering dust.

The photo of Emmett Wilson is there, too; gazing at me from a long time ago. It’s not a judgmental look; it’s just him looking at the camera.

Emmett Wilson, official photograph, 1913. Source: Library of Congress

But I do feel this old sense of guilt, looking at him, thinking about how much information I’ve gathered over the last nine years about him. “I should be done with this already, right?” I tell myself — and him — and yet, every time I have thought that, something new shows up: A clipping, typically something not available publicly but shared with me by a colleague or contact. Emmett’s research has taught me a lot about patience in the process of research. Nine years may still not be enough time; Emmett’s not going anywhere, but, new and oddball things have a way of showing up to help tell his story, even after nine years of active, diligent digging.

There’s nothing I have to justify here; it’s the nature of research. It never occurred to me that I’d still be constructing Emmett’s story almost 10 years later, but all projects are unique. There’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy to research.

But this morning, I do feel the lack of writing mojo significantly. The big unfinished story of Emmett Wilson, one decade later; 104 years after his death.

And this morning, I also heard Emmett-of-the-unfinished-life, say to me: “I get it. Life can get overwhelming, and it can help to get away from it. There’s no deadline. There’s no pressure.

“But don’t do what I did to get away from it.”

This has happened before. I should know from history that every time I force myself to do something that doesn’t feel right at the moment, it doesn’t turn out well. My solution, also historically, is to back off, back away, do something else for a little while. Inevitably, the writing mojo comes back.

And this morning, I say back to Emmett: “The break’s only temporary. And don’t worry: I won’t drink over it, not today. I’ll pick it up again soon.

“Thanks for understanding. I will be back soon.”

Categories: Book The Writing Life

jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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