Philadelphia Writers Block Society - A Day Sentence

Submitted into Contest #212 in response to: Write a story in the form of a letter, or multiple letters back and forth.... view prompt

32 comments

Fiction

To: KevinMcMurdle@uiowa.edu

From: JakeJohnston720@gmail.com

Subject: An Awful Day at the Philadelphia Writers Block Society 


It has been an arduous journey writing the first draft of my Great American Novel. Every morning, I sit in front of my typewriter, the same model F Scott Fitzgerald used, and confront the page. Next to me sits the most trusted edition of Merriam-Webster. When the words to write don’t come, I scan the collected works of Fitzgerald, and a few volumes of Hemingway and Richard Yates.


Most days, to warm up, I complete the day's Wordle, despite five-letter words not being useful for the type of writing I aspire to.


The great writers in history lit a cigarette in the morning. In 2023, I prepare a cup of hand dripped Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. 


I digress.


My story begins one morning when Jennifer, perhaps seeing the blank page in my typewriter, became increasingly insistent that I put my boots on the ground (as she described it) and venture out to meet other members of Philadelphia's writing community.


"I'm working two jobs so you can take a year off to pursue your goal of becoming a writer," she said. "You can at least receive some input from the person who pays the rent."


"But I can't allow myself to be distracted," I say. When her facial expresson reached a level of exasperation I had not seen, I relented. "I'll look into it."


To placate the sole supporter of my writing endeavour, I began to meticulously investigate writing groups in the area. None seemed appropriate. Jennifer nudged me toward attending the 'Philadelphia Self Publishing Meetup'.


Reading their member bios, it became clear I would not want to associate with a group of delusional young people dreaming of writing the next Hunger Games or Twilight. If I spent time with them, I might also pursue writing fiction with easily relatable protagonists and page turning tension. 


In the following weeks, I began to focus my time on researching the themes I wanted to cover in my novel. Mostly to document the travails of our society and times. One morning, as I was engrossed in reading of the impacts of budget cuts at West Virginia University to our national education system, Jennifer walked in and placed a print-out on my desk. It was about a conference this Saturday by a group called The Writers Block Society of Philadelphia.


How insulting.


The explanation of how insulting this was formulated in my mind but Jennifer had already left the room, closed the door, and sounding as if she was heading out of the apartment.


I returned to reading about the travesty of the WVU budget cuts. This could lead me to the opening chapter of my Great American Novel.


Later that afternoon, Jennifer has still not returned home, I took another look at the Writing Block Society’s seminar info. I could kill two birds with one stone. (You taught me to never use a tired cliché such as this in print.) I could please Jennifer and also wade in a pool of schadenfreude watching beginner writers struggle. I decided to attend.


On Saturday morning, I slung a messenger bag over my shoulder, one which held my Pilot 823 fountain pen and a new moleskine I had bought for the event. Twenty minutes of cycling later, I arrived at the seminar location, a coworking space on 12th Street.


My first impression of the other visitors was that they didn’t look like me. Nor did they look like serious writers, not at all.


An attractive woman smiled and said it was nice to meet me, and sat in the seat next to me. I wondered if she was trying to sell something. On my other side, a slightly anxious man sat and busied himself with his laptop. 


At 10am, the forty people there began writing. Or, not writing, as the moniker of the club suggests.


I stared at the page whilst I thought of the important topics in the world. Climate change, race relations, the disadvantaged, or, thinking of classical fiction: romance, a character’s journey to an enlightened state of being, moments of world history.


In the corner of my eye, laptop man kept choosing different fonts for the sentence he had typed. The overtly friendly woman next to me drew intricate sketches of fantasy creatures.


A bell chimed. It was 11 am. An hour had passed.


In the awkward silence, there was a scattering of chit-chat. I snuck furtive glances at the notebooks and laptops of other attendees. They mostly appeared as blank as mine, thankfully.


“What font do you use?” the man next to me asked.


I blinked, not knowing how to reply.


“Oh…” he said. His face burned red. “Notebooks don’t have fonts.” 


The awkwardness was interrupted when a speaker took the stage. She introduced herself as Ellen and said she would give a ten minute talk on mindfulness as a cure for writer’s block.


Empty your mind of thoughts, she said. Recharge your vitality for writing by focusing on the breath. Let’s begin.


We spent the next 9 minutes in silence. The bell chimed. The beginning of the next fifty minute block of writing. Suffice to say, during the nine minutes of not thinking of anything, no new idea for writing arrived.


I thought about fonts. Why don’t paper notebooks have fonts? And should we do something about that?


In the hushed silence, the roadwork noise from outside became a steady companion. In the cacophony of jack hammers and rumbling engines. I couldn’t possibly think great thoughts. So I surrendered and decided to simply observe the others, at least until the next speaker took the stage.


They didn’t look like writers. The top bun hairstyles. The nose rings. What were they trying to prove? Everyone was fidgeting. It was the visual equivalent of the noise outside. I returned to staring at my blank page, and trying to recall the great words of Fitzgerald.


At noon, the chime sounded, and the next speaker jumped to the stage. An excited looking young girl, who appeared to be about 12 years old, grinned as she pranced around.


“As you can see, I’m a child, I haven't had any experiences. I haven’t had a job, a boyfriend….or a girlfriend.” She winked theatrically. “I have nothing to write about!” 


She paused, holding a smile almost as if she was frozen, before she continued.


“But when I stare at the blank page, and then put down the first word that comes to my mind, the next word follows…and soon there’s a whole page of words where previously there was nothing. I have created something from nothing.” 


“If I can do it, you can too!”


She rushed off the stage. The crowd clapped politely while looking back and forth between her and her parents, perhaps saluting their early rearing of a TED speaker.


We returned to staring at our blank pages. I had invested two hours and didn’t have much to lose. That is, except for the condition of my new leather notebook. I put the fountain pen down and took a pencil out of my bag. I very lightly wrote a word down.


“Font”


This was progress!


Now, following the speaker’s advice, I had to decide which word comes next, I considered the various options:


Font is..

Font saw..

Font pondered...


Nothing worked. I had chosen the wrong first word. I erased it, being careful to leave no trace of its existence.


Life experiences. I did have more than her. I went over mine: high school, the lacrosse team, AP classes, scholarships, attendance at the Iowa Writers Workshop. No one would care to read about those. These are not the important issues in the world.


The bell chimed.


A middle-aged man in a sports jacket took the podium. He dressed like a commercially successful writer, or as someone who pretended to be one in online writing courses.


“Who has difficulty in finding words to write on the page?” he asked.


A few hands rose up. Most turned their gaze down.


“When you sit down to write, be as honest as you can and the words will flow. Write what you know. Write what you believe in. Do it now.”


He shuffles off the stage, and I see other people begin to write.


What do I believe in? I believe in the writing of F Scott Fitzgerald. I think about what he would write. The words begin to flow.


“My predilection for epigrams, I believe, has shown I’ve always had a heightened sensitivity to the intricate quivering facets of the human heart.”


With this excellent first sentence down on the page,I take a break and think of which next sentence could follow this.


While I'm still thinking, the bell chimes.


It’s over. One of the most painful experiences of my life. I did write the first line of my novel. It’s in pencil, so luckily I haven’t committed to it yet.


The four hours was such an awful experience, I immediately went to the coffee shop across the street to write down the preposterousness of it all before I forgot the details. 


I’m never attending a meeting of the Philadelphia Writers Block Society again. I could have spent a full day at home writing by myself.


When I returned home, Jennifer grabbed the leather notebook out of my bag before I could stop her and opened it.


She smiled. Her eyebrows furrowed, her pupils darting back and forth, analyzing my prose. “This is great,” she exclaimed. “The first thing you've written in months!”


I had been opposed to attending the Writers Block seminar. But thanks to Jennifer’s encouragement, I realized, if I do attend, I will be able to write at a minimum one sentence of the Greatest American Novel each month.


Yours Truly,

Your student at the Iowa Writers Workshop (2017)

Jake Johnston



From: KevinMcMurdle@uiowa.edu

To: JakeJohnston720@gmail.com

Subject: Re: An Awful Day at the Philadelphia Writers Block Society 


I was deeply moved by the update on your writing journey, and by your appreciation of many of the great authors of American literature, many of which I may have discussed in my lectures. I encourage you to immerse yourself in your life with Jennifer, and with the trends of your generation. And your email was 1,651 words, that's more than I ever saw you write in Iowa. You are making progress, keep up the good work!


To: KevinMcMurdle@uiowa.edu

From: JakeJohnston720@gmail.com

Subject: Re: Re: An Awful Day at the Philadelphia Writers Block Society 


I know you're busy, so I haven't sent you an update since last year.


My first short story was published in Harper’s magazine, "Unblocked in Philadelphia". It might not be F Scott Fitzgerald, but it's a start.



August 22, 2023 14:00

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32 comments

Amanda Lieser
23:19 Sep 28, 2023

Hi Scott! Oh this story gives me hope! I confess lots of fear about jumping into the real life writing-perfectly happy to linger behind my computer keyboard for now. However, this piece’s hopeful tale gives me pause. I loved the way it tackled the prompt via email and I thought the way you weaved in the protagonist’s thoughts was done expertly. Nice work on this one!!

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02:38 Sep 29, 2023

Thanks for all your nice comments, what a wonderful surprise to read them after I woke up today. Yes, I know what you mean. I keep procrastinating too on "real" writing for the easier option of writing for short story websites like this one. I guess I'm a bit afraid of spending a long time writing something that doesn't work out.

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Brittany Butler
15:11 Aug 31, 2023

This was such a fun read - and it was especially enjoyable to read out loud! I loved Jake's voice, and you did a great job of making him endearing, despite some of his unappealing character traits. It was also insightful, and a good reminder to stay humble. I think many writers (myself included!) have been in similar places at some point in our writing journeys. Not just with creative blocks, but also thinking we're better others or better than we actually are (or the opposite - thinking we're worse than we actually are), judging other writ...

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Olivia Lake
02:51 Aug 29, 2023

Your attention to detail really sells this. I giggled at the mention of the Pilot 823 and the moleskine - I've also thought that, if I have the right notebook and the smoothest pen, only then can I get down the business... that's never the solution, huh?

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03:30 Aug 29, 2023

The right pen is not the solution, that's for sure. And I could see easily be like this ! I was briefly obsessed with fountain pens for a few years in high school, now I have a dozen pairs of running shoes bought in an attempt to find the right one to run faster. (they're all about the same)

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3i Writer
01:39 Aug 28, 2023

Absolutely love the part about 12 yr old giving the TED speech. Regarding writer's block, how long does it take you to write every story you've submitted to reedsy?

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01:55 Aug 28, 2023

I make notes in google docs for about 3 days of plot ideas. That's a good tool as I can write things down while I'm at work or outside. When I'm just walking around daydreaming is usally when the best ideas come. And around Tuesday or Wednesday I go into a writing frenzy and write the whole story in about an hour. And then probably each day afterward, empty my mind and read as if I'm reading it for the first time and edit anything confusing or delete anything that slows it down.

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10:04 Aug 28, 2023

Rereading it today, I still see a few typos. Editing is very time-consuming, a few days isn't enough.

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3i Writer
14:15 Aug 28, 2023

Rereading and editing is a real pain in the ass. I myself used grammarly and then use AI reader to listen to what I have written. Helps to improve focus.

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Katy B
22:31 Aug 25, 2023

I was actually laughing out loud the whole time. Jake's pomposity combined with his happy ending was such a treat :) Thank you for sharing!

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04:39 Aug 26, 2023

Im so happy to hear that, i didnt know if the pompous “jake voice” would he dull. or over the too enough to be funny for readers, happy it worked.

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Delbert Griffith
10:27 Aug 25, 2023

This is a tour de force on practically everything that involves writing: the writing itself, the delusional "author" who makes excuses instead of sentences, the belief that long words are better, and his rebuffing of novels that engage the reader. I mean, it's all there, Scott. Funny as hell, sad as hell, and very telling, especially as regards societal standards. A typo: "And your email was 1,651 words, that more than I ever saw you write in Iowa, you are making progress, keep up the good work!" "That" should be "that's." Wonderful piece...

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04:42 Aug 26, 2023

Thx! happy you saw the joke about him not liking popular novels. Sort of threw the chumbucket of popular ideas about writers block into this.

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Mary Bendickson
17:05 Aug 23, 2023

Great to know so many writers suffer writer's block there is a whole society for them.😉 About three or four weeks ago I lamented about my own struggles in my entry that week. That same week I got notification I was a finalist for a major award. This past weekend I collected that award I won for my category. Yoo-hoo! My entry this week will be a thank you to the presenters. A 1000 word note!😅 Thanks for liking my donut story. So surprised it shortlisted.Must be on a roll!🍩 So behind on reading haven't gotten to your latest.

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17:12 Aug 23, 2023

Thats great to hear Mary! Congrats: that must be such t word great confirmation of your talent as.a writer: share a link if you would like to and look fwd to ur 1000 word story

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Anna W
02:19 Aug 23, 2023

This story was really funny, Scott. I can feel the pride of Jake coming through, almost a smugness (okay, maybe more than almost). He’s going to write the next “great American novel,” but can’t see past his own pride to take some advice from others. Any stories about writers or writers block is always intriguing to me, as a writer who often feels stuck. You captured it well!

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07:55 Aug 23, 2023

Great to hear the humor of smug Jake came through, I didn't know if it would be funny or just unlikable haha but tried to make it as ridiculous as possible. thx for reading!

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:34 Aug 22, 2023

Yeah, any work that involved writing craft, I am for it. Fine work.

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07:56 Aug 23, 2023

thx! someone said writers shouldn't write about writers, but good to hear you disagree;)

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Philip Ebuluofor
20:24 Aug 23, 2023

I read to know, to learn.

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Helen A Smith
16:49 Aug 22, 2023

Hi Scott The story flows well and is humorous. Most importantly, it’s entertaining with slightly annoying characters stepping up to the podium. It’s also a story people will be able to identify with. Essentially it’s all there. The only possible issue is: should there be a reply from Kevin McMurdle, even if it’s only a short answering response? Not necessarily according to the prompt as one letter is enough. I’m just curious about Kevin. I assume he’s a good friend. Has Kevin experienced writer’s block too or has he other problems? Cou...

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07:54 Aug 23, 2023

That's a great idea;) I added a reply from Kevin McMurdle and then it gave the story a much more satisfying ending. Will keep working until Saturday;)

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Helen A Smith
08:12 Aug 23, 2023

It gives it an extra dimension. I’m sure by then, you will feel you’ve absolutely nailed it. It’s looking great already. Don’t think I’m going to be able to do the letter prompt even though I’d like to have had a go. Takes so long for me to get things written to a satisfying level. All the best.

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08:19 Aug 23, 2023

Yes, me too. I need to spend days and edit mine about ten times before they're not embarrassing. Jealous of people who can write a grammatically correct story on a Saturday afternoon.

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01:24 Aug 31, 2023

Very nice. Rang true for me.

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Kate Winchester
22:05 Aug 27, 2023

Great job! Your story is relatable and told in a humours way. The part about the little girl and her first TED talking had me laughing. I’m glad Jake was finally able to finish a story!

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Lily Finch
16:32 Aug 22, 2023

My only thoughts are that he keeps his experiences to his personal moments, with the exception of the twelve-year-old. I would expand on other characters more. In not so many details but maybe just a brushing of each so that we get an idea of what his finished product might look like. Other than that the premise is good. LF6

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16:41 Aug 22, 2023

Thx Lily, yeah i see what your saying, balance with some more showing of other characters and some interactions. And as it stands hes pretty hopeless as a writer, maybe i can tic him some direction a d hope to improve his novel

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Lily Finch
18:45 Aug 22, 2023

Just enough to have the reader understand what the wife sees. LF6😜

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07:59 Aug 23, 2023

Maybe I'll add some dialogue with his wife and some of the other characters. Looking at it today, a lot of internal thinking... needs more emotion and conflict.

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Lily Finch
14:06 Aug 23, 2023

That sounds good. In that case, you would instantly have emotion which would lead to conflict at some point. I like the sounds of that Scott. Go for it. Great idea. LF6 D)

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14:03 Aug 22, 2023

A story idea I've had in my mind for a while, which turned out to work for the prompt this week. A writer gets so irritated at a writers block seminar, he begins to write about it.

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