Writer in Residence

A bad case of WB

By Jowita Bydlowska


Being a writer means trying to get good at waiting. The waiting is sometimes about hearing back from editors, publishers, my agent… whomever I send my underwear to (no, I don’t send underwear but sending your writing to be judged feels just as intimate and somehow violating. But maybe that’s just me.)

Over many years, I’ve spent hours sitting & theatrically staring at the blinking cursor as I’d wait and wait. I’m waiting today, too. I wish I was waiting to hear back from some entity in charge about the nice set of lace panties some novel I’ve sent out to but instead I’m just WAITING to be inspired because, Jesus, my writer’s block is back! Yes, what an adorable coincidence that this happens the month I’m hired to write non-stop.

Today the blinking cursor is not blinking—it is the middle finger of Document2.docx and it is flipping me the bird: eff-off. 

I said I wasn’t going to write about writer’s block but here we are (and let’s call it “WB” since that makes it sound like an acronym some embarrassing condition, which this is.) (“How are you today?” “Oh, I have WB.” “Ew.”)

My son playing with his Lego on the floor looks up at me, ”What’s wrong?”

“There’s nothing wrong,” I say to him because there isn’t—or rather there is; nothing precisely (what I’m writing about) or not much.

“You said the F-word,” my son says.

“I apologize. What are you building?”

“Just a room with a closet.” It appears we are both aiming low in our morning creative endeavours.

“Just a room?”

“A room with a closet.”

“I don’t know what to write about. What should I write about?”

“Prince Harry?”

I’ve been talking about writing about Prince Harry because I am writing about Prince Harry but in another corner of my word-sausage factory, which is what I used to call writing as a profession, to my roommate, during the journalism-school days, back when I owned giant platform boots that closed up snuggly around my legs with flat tongues of Velcro.

(And if the prince himself can break the stiff-upper-lip protocol of processing emotion, we should all feel less shame about being vulnerable.)

Last week, when I was still blissfully unaware of WB, I was also working on a new short story, which is actually the only thing I want to work on out of all the things.

(Two days after my enquiry, an email from 454 arrives in my Inbox, complete with an attachment. I feel bile come up with my throat as I open the attachment. It’s a PDF that looks just like a travel pamphlet. It is kind of a travel pamphlet; nothing in it suggests otherwise. Were Daniel to walk into the room and look over my shoulder, he would see the pretty picture of a landscape of lighter-green meadows, average-green rolling hills, darker-almost-blue-green forest in the background and in the foreground, black rocky formations with dramatic waves against them frozen in frothy white.

            “Ireland or Scotland?”

            “Scotland,” I’d tell him.

            I’m getting cingulotomy, I would not tell him, which is an alternative to a lobotomy.)

I was also working on an application for a travel grant to Poland where I might do some research for a future novel.

And I was half-way through an essay on language. (In this essay I reveal that the reason I write the way I write is because I don’t know have full command of English. I like simple sentences. I’m an enthusiastic user of MSWord’s Synonyms. I still struggle with articles.)

In another area of word-sausage factory there are also rewrites of a ghostwriting project.

An open document on a book proposal for a new memoir. (Soon to be waited on, on hearing back about it. More waiting.)

Another open document. This one of a novel I’d rather be working on over all of the other things, including the short story about cingulotomy. 

To be honest, I am really worried about that Prince Harry article.  It’s due two days ago.

Today is not a good day to write. But I got so bad at waiting that I ended up writing something. I pray WB goes away for good.

My son periodically abandons and comes back to his Lego project. The room with a closet has expanded and now there are two rooms; some military personnel has moved inside—three guys in white with helmets on.


P.S. I read “Deaf and Blind” by Lara Vapnyar in The New Yorker, April 24th issue. It’s dark and sad and subtly funny and you might even laugh out loud. It’s about a Russian girl and her mother and her mother’s friend, Olga, who has a lover who can’t see or hear.

This New Yorker thing—I promised myself to read every short fiction in The New Yorker this year. I no longer receive the subscription but borrow the issues from a friend. Now that I no longer receive the subscription, the guilt of not having read The New Yorker (is there a German word for this yet?) has been annihilated and for the first time in my life I can truly enjoy the magazine. 

Waiting. In Scotland, for a cingulotomy. Just kidding!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Jowita Bydlowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, and moved to Canada as a teen. She is the author of the bestselling memoir Drunk Mom. A journalist and fiction writer, she lives in Toronto, Canada.

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