Exercise #47: Writer’s Block

Exercise 47 Instructions

The Irritation: My Point of View

At the moment, from my perspective, the most irritating thing that has happened to me this week (in fact, the past several weeks), has been trying to write this story.

The Story: Understanding the Other Guy

Of all the times for the doorbell to ring, Elva thought, savagely clicking the save button on her word processing program so that she wouldn’t lose what little work she had so far, and shoving herself away from her desk.

“Ding Dong!” the doorbell chirped again cheerfully.

“I’m coming!” Elva called, giving the lonely few words on her screen a last longing look before heading for the door. Looking through the fish-eye lens embedded in it, Elva’s irritation changed to surprise. Unlocking the door, she pulled it open to get a better look at her golden-haired visitor. “Danica,” she smiled, hugging the soggy woman standing on her doorstep. “What are you doing here? I thought you were going to Chicago today.”

“I was,” Danica sighed in frustration, gesturing to the pile of luggage stacked in the driveway behind Elva’s little Honda Civic, “I was supposed to change planes here in Salt Lake City. When I got here, though, the airport staff told all the waiting passengers that the flight had been canceled. Apparently there’s a big storm system coming in. We’ve been asked wait here until it passes. Would you mind if I camp out on your couch until then? I’m soaked to the skin and I can’t afford a hotel.”

“Sure, Dani,” Elva nodded, stepping out of the doorway so her friend could enter. “Why don’t you slip into a shower and some dry clothes. I’ll bring in your luggage. The bathroom’s just down the hall on your right.”

“Oh, thank you.” the older woman moaned, gratefully shedding her dripping jacket, which Elva took into the kitchen and hung from the light fixture over the sink.

It was the work of only a few minutes to bring in Danica’s luggage, which mainly consisted of two large, powder blue hard-shell suitcases and a matching plastic-lined garment bag. Elva put these in the living room, near the couch and went back to re-lock the front door.  Danica, who lived in Portland, Oregon, was almost obsessively tidy.  Elva gazed rather ruefully across the paper-cluttered surface of her desk and sighed in envy as she dove once again into her briefly abandoned writing project.

“Excuse me, Elva,” Danica called from the bathroom, “Do you mind if I use your shampoo and conditioner?”

Elva fought the urge to scream at the interruption. “Go ahead. They’re in the caddy hanging from the shower head.”

“May I have a towel, please?” her friend pleaded about ten minutes later.

Elva clenched her fists. Those stubborn few words absolutely refused to transform themselves into anything sensible. “In the cabinet across from the bathroom.”

“Would you bring me my bathrobe? It’s in my garment bag.”

Elva was sorely tempted to toss her friend back out into the rain again. “Use mine! It’s on the hook behind the bathroom door.” There was silence for a while, in which Elva made several false starts that were just as quickly erased. She was just about ready to give up, erase the few words she had that refused to be anything more than that, and try something entirely different when she felt a slight touch on her shoulder. She yelled and spun around so fast that she almost fell out of her chair. Danica was standing there in Elva’s lavender terry-cloth bathrobe toweling her hair dry and fighting the urge to giggle.

“Sorry,” Danica apologized when she could finally make her face stay straight. “I’m not usually this quiet. Wearing high-heeled shoes everywhere tends to make you a tad conspicuous.”

Elva let out a sigh of pure relief, sitting back in the office chair she’d bought to go with her computer desk, which was an old roll-top she’d fallen in love with at a yard sale several years back and refinished.

“If you’ll pardon my asking,” Danica ventured, draping the damp towel across her shoulders, “what are you working on so intensely? A new novel?”

“I wish,” Elva sighed. “It’s an online writing exercise. I put a new one up every Friday morning.  So this one has to be done tonight and I’m stuck.”

She gazed hopelessly at her laptop, sitting on the cluttered surface of the roll-top desk. On the screen, were the following words.

“Exercise #47: Self Knowledge,” and a line or two below that, “Find,” with the cursor blinking in what now seemed to Elva like smug satisfaction.

“I’ve never understood your need for this kind of thing,” Danica replied, walking to the empty sofa to open up a suitcase. “Would you mind explaining it?”

“Well,” Elva sighed, curiously grateful for the interruption this time, “Self-Knowledge writing has to do with taking what you know and turning it into a story. It’s good practice for my writers. Some of the best stories I’ve ever written have had to do with stuff I already know. Once I have this finished and posted, I’ll probably have about ten subs in my e-mailer by next Friday. The only problem is that I can’t seem to come up with anything that’s likely to be interesting and helpful to my writers.”

“Hmm,” Danica replied thoughtfully, pulling underwear and a set of neatly folded pajamas from the suitcase, then shutting it with a click. “That sounds frustrating.” She was quiet for a while as she pulled her things on. Elva sighed and went to the hall closet for a couple of spare blankets. When she returned, her friend was dressed and seated on the sofa in a position Elva had only seen in web-cam conversations. Danica called it her “thinking pose.” After a while, the older woman shook her head. “I’m at a loss, Elva,” she said, accepting the blankets, “it seems to me that you have a real challenge on your hands.”

It was like someone struck her in the back of the head with a sledge hammer.

“Dani! That’s it!” Elva squealed, dashing for her abandoned laptop and the waiting post.

“That’s what?” Danica replied, in a tone of voice that said more clearly than anything that she was confused.

“Just a minute!” Elva replied, typing furiously. In less than five minutes, she was finished. “Okay, take a look and tell me what you think.”

The words on the screen had been expanded. They read:

Exercise #47: Self Knowledge

Find an irritation this week. Somebody schedules a meeting during your lunch hour at work, or cuts you off in traffic, or leaves their shopping cart in line but goes back for milk. Anything which gives you minor or major irritation.

Got it?

Optional: write a very brief summary of the event from your POV which shows us the irritation. This is not included in the word count for your SUB, but do please keep it short.

Now write a SUB detailing the event which explains the other person’s actions as understandable. Suddenly you’re omniscient and understand, or you’re them and it all comes clear. However you decide to do it, show us why they did what they did.

Word limit: 1200
Please use the subject line:
SUB: Exercise #47/yourname

“I think,” Danica replied when she finished reading, “that your writers will curse your name in eight different languages while they’re writing this exercise.”

Elva laughed.


As you may have guessed, I chose to use this writing exercise in my story about understanding the source of my irritation.  If you followed the link I included as usual, you’ll note that I quoted winebird’s writing exercise verbatim (kudos to him/her).  I should mention that these characters are not meant to bear any resemblance whatsoever to anyone living or dead.  They are purely fictional.  Anyway, this is the story I’ve been trying to write all this time.  I’m sorry it took so long.  Hopefully, it won’t take so long to write the next one.  I’m also hoping to post a short story I’m writing that’s not necessarily for a writing exercise.  Incidentally, winebird, if you’re reading this, I would be cursing your name in eight different languages if I knew that many.  Still, just like giving birth, once the head came out, the rest was easy.

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3 thoughts on “Exercise #47: Writer’s Block

  1. Pingback: Cimmy’s Stories: Writing Exercise #47 completed | Dragon's Lair

  2. You have a gift for writing pictures and stimulating people’s imaginations. I hope you always use it positively, like this!

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