Writers Block – it is Charles Bukowski’s Fault

I can’t write.  Maybe it’s because I spent a week transcribing an interview.  Maybe it’s all the shifts I’m doing at work.  Coming into the round I had nothing.  Determined to force it out, I had just sat down with a few thoughts and put my fingers on the keyboard when Kristine interrupted me.


‘We have to do the chicken,’ she said.


What is hell to a writer?  Hell is being too busy to find the time to write or being unable to find the inspiration.  Hell is suddenly finding the words but being away from your notebook or typewriter.  Hell is when the verses slip away through your fingers and they never return again – R.M. Engelhardt


Doing the chicken meant going outside.  Torches.  A syringe.  I left a blank screen to do the chicken.  Kristine held her while I held her beak and fed her antibiotics.


Back at the keyboard, listening to Richmond play Melbourne, I was thinking about the chicken.  Her name is Betty.  She got sick.  Kristine took her to the bird vet.  It cost $120.  For a chicken.


Richmond was playing Melbourne.  The Tigers were playing like Betty.  I stared at the blank screen.  I thought about all the great writers and their battles with writers block.


Yes, I felt very small. The typewriter seemed larger than a piano, I was less than a molecule. What could I do? I drank more – Albert Sánchez Piñol


With the page blank, I went to the garage and watched the second quarter, barracking for Richmond but wanting Melbourne to be competitive.  At half time, I went to bed, hoping I could get to sleep without checking the final score.


Because it was Melbourne v Richmond, I feel asleep almost immediately.


Saturday afternoon, Collingwood against Essendon.  I was on the couch while everyone slept.  I watched the first quarter without interruption before Angus got up.  He sat on my lap.


‘We’re watching cricket ball daddy,’ he said.


‘It’s football.’


‘No it’s cricket ball,’ he said before squirming off my lap.  ‘I’m going to get my footy.’


Angus is three.  You don’t win arguments with three-year-olds.  He can call it cricket ball as long as he lets me watch.


He stood in front of the TV, holding the footy and trying to kick it like the players were.  It wasn’t working.  He put the tiny footy on the ground and kicked it across the room.


At half time we went outside and kicked his soccer ball around.  I’ve never owned a soccer ball.  I don’t watch soccer but Angus is too young to kick a footy.  He’d put the mid-sized soccer ball on the grass, take a long run up then stop and kick the ball about three metres.

I clapped and went wow…


The downstairs radio went on for the third term and I stood near the door as he ran around.  Collingwood were ahead.  That was fine.  By the time the last quarter started, I had the earphones in.  Angus was watching cartoons.  He’d done well to watch as much footy as he did.


I was tired and complaining when I sat down to write.  Nothing happened.


I don’t believe in writers block.  Do doctors have doctors block?  Do plumbers have plumbers block?  No.  We all have days when we don’t feel like working, but why do writers turn that into something so damn special by giving it a faintly romantic name – Larry Kahaner


Larry Kahaner didn’t write romance.  He wrote a book about a machine gun, AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War.


It was Anzac Day, so I researched his book and the gun for a while.  When I went back to the blank document, I was cursing my attempt at building a massage table, which was a failure.


Instead of writing, I opened an email from a mate and forgot all about the blank page then listened to the first half of the Port-Hawks game before switching to the Freo-Swans game.


The games seemed to mirror each other.  They were shocking.  When I turned the computer off the word document was blank, like my mind.


When words don’t come easy, I make do with silence and find something in nothing – Strider Marcus Jones


Sleep was silence.  I found nothing.  Driving home from work on Sunday, it didn’t take too long for North to be four goals down.  Before too long I was angry.  I stopped listening and called a mate.


‘This is so predictable,’ I said.


He laughed without humour.  ‘Maybe there’s a stiff breeze,’ he said.


At home, Angus wanted to play.  Jim was asleep.  Kristine needed to buy fruit.  The game wasn’t on the radio or TV in Brisbane.  I thought about using the earphones but Jim woke up about two minutes after his mum went out.


I wondered if it was illegal to listen to the footy through earphones while looking after two kids.  Probably not if you’re right there.  I tried it.


Angus was talking.  I was listening to footy and thinking about writing.


Very often we write down a sentence too early, then another too late; what we have to do is write it down at the proper time, otherwise it’s lost – Thomas Bernhard


‘Daddy I’m talking to you,’ he said loudly, tapping me on the leg.


‘Sorry.’  I took the headphones out.  ‘I want sausages and cucumber and carrot and tomato for dinner.’


‘Make sure you tell mummy,’ I said.


He probably wouldn’t have cared if I listened to the game as long as I kept turning his transformer into a car then into a transformer then into a car then into a transformer, but I turned the app off and played matchbox cars on the track.


When Kristine got home it was half time.  North was in front.  I thought I’d write about North if they won and hoped my fingers would work.


Writer’s block is just another name for fear – Jacob Nordby


We talked about dinner.  I was the only one who wanted steak.  I figured it was a good time to vacuum the floor.  Angus played this game where he turns the vacuum on and off rapidly and laughs.   I play this game where I say turn it on, turn it on, turn it on, turn it on in escalating exasperation.


I vacuumed his toes, belly and hair.


‘Do it again,’ he said.


When the vacuuming was over midway through the third, North was still ahead.  I put the headphones in.  Geelong got a goal.  I took the headphones out and put away the washing.  While making dinner, I kept abreast of the score.


In the last quarter, when North led by 23-points, I was able to listen to the game and the post-match analysis while eating steak.


Later, I tried writing but couldn’t get past the AFL’s website.  I watched the highlight package then Brad Scott’s press conference then read a few articles.  Not a word was written.


The last thing we discover in composing a work is what to put down first – Blaise Pascal


On Monday night I figured Alastair Clarkson should go first and wondered if he would get charged by police or suspended by the AFL.


Clarkson’s not rough around the edges.  He’s jagged.  Wound tight.  By word or sword he is judged.  Angry.  Mostly I like him.


The footage showed a disrespectful man acting like a dill.  It must be embarrassing for him.  People who respect the game would never do that to a coach.


Reportedly Clarkson declined a photograph but the man followed him for about forty metres, and when his behaviour escalated, so did Clarkson’s.


His reaction left the man shocked.  He shouldn’t be surprised.  Clarkson shouldn’t be surprised either by what happens next.


By nine o’clock, the page was still blank.  Clarko’s speed and accuracy, his aggressive intent, got me thinking about Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio.  I put a few words on the page and deleted them.


Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all – Charles Bukowski


So I’d like to thank Charles Bukowski…


About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Good stuff Matt. I find that ‘writers block’ is not an absence of ideas. More an excess of ones that are trite, derivative, obvious and boring.
    I always like writers like yourself who find new ways to keep their audience engaged. Writing solely for yourself as a form of therapy or self-expression can be useful, but don’t expect an audience.
    I often read Howard Jacobson’s essays on the Independent newspaper website. He always laments that in these days of abundant social media we have too many writers and too few readers!
    When I read a genuinely clever thoughtful piece on the site I always post a comment, because writing is a solitary pursuit and our delicate egos crave feedback and approval. You are on my short list of interesting Almanac writers who are always worth a look. Thanks.

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Mate, best piece I have ever read on the Almanac sight! Haha! You can fucking write!

    So many good quotes. Damn, you must read! They add to the weight of my long held opinion that most writers, no matter how talented, are wankers, in that they so rarely start wit the words, “For me…”

    There is no one way. For me…

    “It’s amazing how thin a wall writer’s block is. When I am bereft of inspiration, or motivation, I write. Something usually comes.”

  3. Matt Zurbo says

    “I don’t believe in writers block. Do doctors have doctors block? Do plumbers have plumbers block? No. We all have days when we don’t feel like working, but why do writers turn that into something so damn special by giving it a faintly romantic name – Larry Kahaner”


    Did I say you can write? Damn!

  4. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Excellent. Thank you Matt. From one who has been at the laptop since the Cygnet went to Canberra on school camp at 6.30 this morning. And look where I am at 2.11pm?! I’m going back to my empty page now …

  5. Thanks Peter,
    I am like you, where I always leave a comment on a piece I have enjoyed, because we do have shallow egos and need love.
    The first piece of yours I read years ago mentioned the Avenging Eagle…
    Jeez I laughed.
    Matt, shame all those great quotes were written by people other than me. But I do occasionally read what other readers write about writing. It helps. I found Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ particularly fascinating.
    Mathilde, I have days like yours. I think it was James Joyce who summed up writers block succinctly. Joyce was a notoriously slow writer. A friend asked him how many words he’d written for the day.
    ‘Seven,’ Joyce said.
    The friend was excited. ‘That’s great for you,’ he said to Joyce.
    ‘It isn’t,’ Joyce said. ‘They’re not in the right order…’
    I hope you’re at the keyboard Mathilde…
    Cheers to all.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Good on you for pushing through, Matt. One of my favourite Bukowski quotes: “Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.” Cheers

  7. I’m still getting over $120 for a chicken!

  8. Phil,
    Bukowski was a smart man.
    Saint66, Kristine said ‘it was only $120, so that’s pretty good.’

  9. Earl O'Neill says

    Great piece Matt, thanx. You ever get that block when you’ve written 400 words and nothing else suggests itself? Gee, that bugs me!
    Somerset Maugham, when asked what he did for inspiration, said that he put a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter.

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