Writer’s Block: One Writer’s Solution

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When I find myself “seriously blocked,” I turn to physical activity. I sweep the back porch. Since this is a high-use area for me and my wife and our black lab, Cody, it always needs a good sweeping-out. Sweeping is an easy task. It doesn’t take a great deal of energy, but one does have to move. You must use your arms and shoulders. You will walk about.

There is a meditative quality to it. Sweeping is not a brain teaser. You locate the dirt and grime and sweep it—an easy effort. On occasion there might be some challenge. For instance, when I sweep the back porch—the one in the picture above—I usually have to sweep around Cody. He loves to lie on the smooth concrete floor. He refuses to move as I sweep, so I sweep around him, coming within a straw’s width of his nose and paws and stomach. He doesn’t move. If I do happen to brush a paw by mistake, he jerks it back, then it slides back into place: forgiving.

On I go, a kind of utilitarian harmony. I sweep the floor. My mind relaxes. There is a balance of movement and breath. I’m not rushed. There’s no stress. I simply sweep and allow my thoughts to settle. The Zen folks are right with this one: an empty mind invites clarity.

What is this emptiness? There have been countless books on the subject. For me it’s as if there are two rooms: one is the actual space I’m cleaning. The other is a room in my mind, an inner room where my thoughts hunker and crowd about demanding attention. I sweep the outer room and in time, (time that also disappears) the clutter of the inner room dissolves like an easy rain moving on, like ice melting. Suddenly, I find myself in a swept room, a clean back porch, where I can see to see.

An afterthought.

As a junior in high school, I was required to take American History. Our teacher was the head football coach, and things weren’t going so well “football-wise.” Every day as we filed into class, he would be at his desk reading the daily newspaper, The Tennessean. We always waited, more out of fear than anything else, until he was finished.

On one particular morning, he folded the paper and pointed right at me. “Here’s something that might interest you.” And he read aloud a news story of a Londoner, an aging street sweeper, whose surname was Broome. He was devoted to his job, and he was known for his excellent sweeping ability. My classmates turned and stared. I became at that very moment the center of the universe, and for what? For having the same name as some old street cleaner!

Coach looked right at me. “Do what you do, and do it well. Isn’t that right Paul?”

“Yes sir,” I replied. I had no idea what he meant. I didn’t know what else to say. Coach nodded and smiled.

Ironically since it was Coach who pointed this fact out, it was taken as gospel, and since Coach was happy, everyone was happy. The ridicule I expected never happened. What did happen was just the opposite. I became, for fifty minutes, the classroom hero. One football player actually leaned over and whispered. “Way to go, Paul.”

That singular moment is all I remember of that history class. Many years later, my dear niece traced our Broome name to England. I thought of Broome, the sweeper, doing his work, being proud of his effort.  It’s a good thought, a good memory.

Oh, and my porch is clean, and I’m writing—happily.

19 thoughts on “Writer’s Block: One Writer’s Solution

  1. Iriz Chan

    It might be just a daily task we do, but these simple tasks defines who we are and have impact in our lives as a whole. If you give best on little things such as sweeping, doing the laundry or washing dishes, you’re probably also doing good on many aspects in your life.

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  2. Cynthia Guenther Richardson

    So agree with the “motion becomes inspiration” idea. I am a serious walker and love to dance. But I also find repetitive chores useful and they obviously serve another good end. “Being present” comes to mind: how much there is in a moment. The anecdote about the teacher was a fine extra touch! I enjoyed your essay. Carry on with the writing!

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  3. Deb

    I’m so happy you were able to sweep away the cobwebs to make room for new ideas and thoughts! I always love to read your stories. I really find that fascinating about your history teacher and the street sweeper named Broome and you sweep to clear you mind…it’s all related in this not so big Universe after all!! That’s so funny about you sweeping around Cody, he trusts you completely and even when you do graze him by accident it’s no big deal…Barney was like that too! I was ready a story about another person and what they do when they have writer’s block. They said they sit with a pad of paper and a pen in there hand and they just start doodling and scribbling just randomly and thinking of nothing in particular and before you know it ideas start creeping in and they start putting pen to paper and voila they are writing a story…that’s their sweeping method! 🙂

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    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      I think the bottom line is that we “want” to write and simply need some ritual or “push” to get us going. Sweeping is good for me–and of course having Cody around helps too-:-) I also do the free write thing and it works very well, but the mood has to be right. Thanks for the wonderful reply.

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  4. Robyn Elliot

    What a beautiful and heartfelt post. I love your broom, over here we’d call it a besom. I agree wholeheartedly, Paul, about the sense of Zen when sweeping. It’s a connection to the earth, I’d say, when focus is downwards. Good on Cody for centering himself…on the porch floor! It’s interesting, too, that writers are always writing, even when they’re blocked!

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    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      Thank you! “And yeah we gotta keep at it. Right now Cody’s lying behind my chair and just as I started this response his tail started thumping the floor. He must agree with your words! And “besom.” I had no idea. Always good to learn something. Thanks!

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  5. milesmb3

    “Sweeping is not a brain teaser.” So true!

    My sisters and I used to squabble over who got to use the toy broom in our tree house. Years after we had outgrown the tree house, I continued to climb the wobbly steps and sweep the rotting floors, about once every month. You’re right; there is something meditative about sweeping, especially when you are sweeping the dust out of the daydream yellow “home” of your childhood.

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    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      Thank you for your comment, and thanks for following! I’ve been out of the blogging loop for a couple weeks and finally am getting back into my writing world. I also would like to commend you on your blog. It’s really great. I look forward to your posts!

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    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      Ha! 🙂 I do the same! And without even trying I’m amazed at some of the tidbits I do hear. When I go to Starbucks, I often see folks reading at the small tables that line the wall. Outside cars are whizzing by. I nearly kill myself trying to see what they’re reading without being obvious…gaaaa.

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