If it weren’t for clumsy opening sentences, I’d never write anything.

I generally avoid writing about writer’s block. It can feel lazy and self-involved, like a screenplay about a screenwriter trying to write the perfect screenplay, or a commercial about an ad agency pitching commercial ideas. (Oh, are you a rapper that raps about the awesome raps you rap? Because that would make you a very mediocre rapper!)

But what I find interesting about writer’s block is the desperation. And by “interesting” I mean “hilarious,” because desperation can make you do some really idiotic shit.

Like, you know those key chains that have a built-in sensor so that if you lose your keys you can clap your hands and the sensor will hear the clap and the key chain will beep and you can follow the beeps with your ears to find your keys? Have you had one of these? I have not. But sometimes, after looking repeatedly for my keys, I will clap my hands and hope that my keys will just know what to do.

And, once in a while, it works.

I know I’ve reached that same level of desperation in my writing when I start Googling whole sentences in hopes that the Internet will magically provide a literal answer, which it never, ever does. Say, for example, I am having trouble writing a joke about poodles (which is impossible because poodles are ridiculous and stupid and so easy to make fun of). When desperate, I’ll search, “How do I make a joke about a poodle?!!!”

And, once in a while, it works.

It delivers a needed distraction–my brain’s way of telling me that I am not interested in what I’m writing about, and helping me to connect it to something I do find interesting. So, searching for poodle jokes–searching for anything–leads me on a click-based voyage to Tangent Town, where hours later I’ll find myself reading Wikipedia entries about true crime stories that have been made into Lifetime movies. Then inspiration strikes.

“Poodle owners are like that lady that was engaged to the Craigslist Killer. Even after you show them piles of ripped up panties under the bed, they refuse to believe they live with a monster.”

And if inspiration refuses to strike, it doesn’t mean those hours spent wandering around online are a total waste. By running out the clock on my deadline, I can stop caring altogether. Out of time means out of options means I just have to just poop something out and move on.

“Poodles? Gross.”

Is it a perfect solution? No. Have I failed terribly? A little. Is it the end of the world? Of course not. (I mean, I hope not, for my sake. It would be very stressful to live in a world that depends on my constant supply of innovative and imaginative poodle jokes.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is,


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Founder and editor of online magazine Kittenpants, producer for stage and screen, former writer for the Comedy Central Insider, quoted in both Maxim and Jane: DARCI RATLIFF can do it all, and does do it all (on or before the third date). Buy her book, If I Did It at kittenpants.com.

24 responses to “Running on Empty”

  1. Dave LBS says:

    Looks like everybody is suffering from commenter’s block. I did the same search you did at the end of your article and there were 60,000 more results than when you did the search. Obviously, this is a topic of some import. Do we need a government grant to study this horrible, ugly, insidious disease that has afflicted a very tiny, but extremely important, segment of our population? Did the Republicans cause this? Do we need the NIH or CDC to get involved? Is there an app for that? . . . You still make me laugh no matter what you write about!! Thank you.

  2. Dave LBS says:

    “commenter” or “commentor” — does anybody really care?

  3. Why not try mixing poodles with prisons along with crime? The thought of a poodle wrapped in insulated blanket and being on a 24 hour suicide watch after being anally raped by a gang of tattooed rottweilers is enough to make me chuckle.

  4. Shae says:

    I wish Kilgallon’s comment hadn’t had to do with poodles on suicide watch so that you could’ve come up with it eventually and used it in a future NB article, Darci (don’t ask me HOW that would’ve worked, it just would have). Oh, well. This whole thing made me laugh so hard that I cried and embarrassed myself when, in mid laugh-cry, I turned and realized that a patron was standing at the desk, waiting for me to turn around, all the while staring at me and probably wondering what was wrong.

    • Darci says:

      That’s why you’re the best (at reading, but maybe not at librarying?). Jk-I’m sure you are pretty tits at librarying, too.

  5. Erica says:

    I thought copywriters got through writer’s block by watching marathons of Bosom Buddies and stealing ideas from Kip and Henry.

  6. Jackie says:

    I wanted to say something witty in response, but apparently I’m going to have to work at it a little more. Nothing I can come up with is as magical as this crap:
    http://www.wikihow.com/Have-a-Witty-Conversation

  7. jmblaine says:

    everything is
    magic
    except for
    the work

  8. jmblaine says:

    when all else
    fails I
    just quote
    misfits lyrics

  9. Seriously, Wikipedia is the best thing ever for writer’s block. Especially the Killdozer. That thing’s fascinating.

    Also, I’m totally going to be trying that for my keys from here on in.

    • kittenpants says:

      It totally works (the key thing). Once a friend of mine was frantically looking for his wallet and finally I made him clap his hands and he instantly found it. He was furious that it worked. He was like, “THAT DID NOT WORK” even though it clearly did.

      Some people hate magic.

  10. mchristy says:

    I’ve been trying to find a good analogy for poodle owners for years. This is the best I’ve seen by far. Kudos.

  11. MGT says:

    You should be able to find inspiration to fight the “block” by working “piles of ripped up panties under the bed” into any piece you need to write.

  12. I really like her riff on the Sour Time roommate in where she screamed out “TIME CAT!!” as if it was a themed Batman television show she thought of for a Saturday Morning Cartoon. Very hysterical…:)

  13. Dan Burt says:

    You need poodle jokes? Here’s what you do. Go to:
    http://creativitygames.net/random-word-generator/

    Choose, say, 4 random words:

    garlic
    mound
    raincoat
    spacestation

    The jokes write themselves:

    -Do all poodles smell like garlic? The one I know does.
    -I think the world is cursed to end because my poodle took a crap on a Mayan burial mound.
    -I put a raincoat on my dog and I caught the little poodle pervert flashing the finches in the pet store.
    -When poodles are allowed on the spacestation, who’s taking them for a space walk?

    Happy birthday!

  14. Luke Kelly-Clyne says:

    As a fan of good rap, you’re dead on.

  15. Amber Fergason says:

    Nice opening and nice closing. I will forever check under the bed of any new prospective boyfriend, sage advice. And poodles? Bah! Get a real dog.

    Feliz cumpleanos!

  16. act says:

    this was fun to read 🙂 you are good

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