By Cheryl Scheir
Every December brings my toughest writing assignment of the year: the annual family Christmas song.
You read that right: Christmas song. I’m somewhat musical, but I’m not a songwriter, per se. My songwriting ability is limited to taking a classic Christmas carol and rewriting the words to provide an amusing snapshot of what my husband, son, daughter, dog, and I are doing and how we feel about doing it—no bragging allowed.
My writing sense of humor primarily consists of exaggeration, analogy, and self-deprecation, and the Christmas song is no different. Throughout the years, among other things, it has highlighted our failed efforts to keep babies quiet and sleeping (“Silent Night? No, not tonight…”) and to pack the car efficiently with presents (“I’ll jam this one last gift right here, but then where will I sit?”). It’s a fun effort for my little group to laugh at ourselves while hopefully bringing a smile and a bit of authenticity to those on our Christmas card list.
Here’s the trouble: I don’t really know what to write as the lyrics to the song for a disturbingly long time, so I wait, biting my nails, thinking, “This is the year when I won’t think of ANYTHING!” Then suddenly, the moment suddenly arrives, and all the lines come to me at once.
It’s a ton of pressure that could be alleviated by selecting a song well in advance. Likewise, I could compose couplets throughout the year as notable events happen. I could assign a stanza to each family member to write about their experiences of the year gone by. But that’s not the way it works. I have nothing, and then—sometimes based on input from others, sometimes not—I have something.
Have you been here: nothing, nothing, nothing, for so long that it scares you…then suddenly something. In my writing life, I’m often reminded of a Don Draper line from Mad Men. Don’s advertising protégé, Peggy, has writer’s block. His solution is something like this: think about it deeply, then forget about it, and something will jump up in your face. You know what? That is absolutely true.
What about this one: pressure, pressure, pressure to come up with something meaningful to say…then suddenly relief (preceded by fast and furious scribbling so you won’t forget by 7 am what you thought of at 2 am). I’m reminded of Don and Peggy’s colleague, Stan, who is inspired in the middle of the night, but wakes up to find that his idea has evaporated—maybe he didn’t write it down or maybe it was taken out in the trash by the office cleaner. All writers scream, “Noooooo!” Honestly, I’ve had my share of computer glitches that wipe out my 500 words of genius, but one time many years ago, on deadline, I successfully (miraculously) reconstructed everything that had just been erased! It was in my brain’s RAM, right there, and it came back with no effort at all. I’m not kidding! Because of that experience, I carry the hope with me that inspiration, when it strikes, leaves an imprint.
So if you’re blocked, step back…eventually the block with give way. If you’re inspired, get to work…but don’t believe for a second that everything is riding on this, whatever “this” is. Don’t give up on your creative brain; it’s working in the background, mysteriously and magically. Just remember to give it a chance.