It happened to me. For a year and a half after I moved to Buenos Aires in 2006, aside from the odd rambling email, I didn't write anything. My literary silence was especially disturbing because writing was partly why I went to Argentina in the first place. There were other reasons, too -- boredom with the rat race, with New York City, with life in general -- but what I really wanted to do was write free of deadlines, office politics and editorial expectations.
I was also going to follow up on some advice given to me years earlier by music critic Robert Christgau, one of my favorite writers. (Once, when giving Prince a rave review, he wrote, "Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home," which remains, for me, the most indelible line in all of rock journalism.) Shortly after I moved to New York City and was working at People magazine, I called up Christgau and invited him to lunch. I couldn't imagine doing anything like that now, but I was young, restless and bold, with a beautiful daring streak.
Of all the things Christgau told me during our two-hour lunch (which went over time and made him late for a meeting with Nelson George, another fantastic writer I'd long admired!), one comment in particular stood out: "To be an interesting writer, you have to lead an interesting life." (That was right up there with "Know your competition, and know it well!" -- Professor William McKeen, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.)
It's not that I wasn't doing interesting things in New York City. I was. I was writing too, mostly rewriting, because that's pretty much what editors do. But I wasn't really leading an interesting life. I was having interesting moments, but they were really nothing to write home -- or blog -- about. I was good at churning out copy for magazines, but I was doing it for the money. I wasn't particularly inspired, because the life I was leading wasn't particularly inspiring.
So off to Buenos Aires I went. Off in search of sexy Latinos, cheap vino, adventure and inspiration. That first year in BA (as expatriate locals call it), there were so many things to write about. I was living on a new continent, learning a new city and a new language. I went out every night. I fell in love. I was even robbed and attacked by three men in my apartment! (Read about it here.) People always asked me -- and still do -- how I spent my time without a 9-to-5 job, as if days are something to be filled with routine rather than lived. There was always something to do -- even if it was nothing.
But I didn't write a word. What Christgau hadn't mentioned was that leading an interesting life wasn't enough. You also had a to have a knack for self-reflection. That wild, crazy, exciting life I was living was basically just a series of misadventures until I began to reflect on them.
That's when the words started pouring out. They came so quickly that I started a blog to get them all down. Secret diaries are so old-school. Oversharing is in, and all good bloggers are obsessed with it. These days I can write in my sleep, and sometimes I do -- literally. Ideas, like the theme of this post, come to me in dreams. I write as I snooze and wake up with the work mostly done. (I need to start remembering to bring a pen and paper, or my lap top, to bed!) Interestingly, I probably do more writing now than I did when I was being paid a lot of money to do it. I definitely enjoy it more.
Of course, as surely as I will eventually return to the 9-to-5 grind, writer's block will rear its hideous head again. Over the last five years, I've spent considerable time on five different continents -- North America, South America, Europe, Australia and Asia -- and strangely, I've been most affected by writer's block in North America and in Australia. Someone I met recently suggested that it might be because being in places where my native language is not widely spoken forces me to step further within, to self-reflect, and that's when the words come pouring out.
May they continue to flood my computer screen, uninterrupted and uncensored.