Up until about 8 months ago, I was a prolific writer. I published my first essay in 2001, and kept going for fifteen years. I wrote a weekly personal newspaper column for four years. My work appeared in large national magazines for a decade-plus, and it’s been featured on countless websites (I suppose technically they could be counted, but I’ve lost count.) I published four books the traditional way and one e-book, and from 2009 on, I blogged several times a week.
And then one day, I just stopped.
There were a lot of very valid reasons for taking a break. One, the content marketing side of my business started blowing up and required focus. Two, I started podcasting more and now have big plans for my network, which also deserves energy and time. And three, I wanted to expand my writing out of the parenting/mom space, and I felt I needed a clean break between myself and my mom blog to do that. “I’ll still have my personal blog,” I thought, referring to this space. “I can write whenever I want.”
But when you’ve created a structure around writing and then you knock that structure down, it turns out it’s pretty easy to just stop entirely. In fact, it was a little scary just how easy it was. What started off as a welcome respite from the pressure and expectation to produce content daily somehow morphed into apathy about writing at all. I didn’t just stop blogging: I stopped working on my memoir, stopped coming up with essay ideas, stopped tooling around with ideas for new stories, stopped sending friends lengthy emails (and as you may know, I love email), even stopped reading much.
So when I decided, after a 3/4 year hiatus, that it was time to start meandering back toward writing, of course I over-thought it. “Where should I write? And about what? And how often? And should I do it blog style or try something new? Should I publish anonymously somewhere and experiment? Should I start working on my book again? Should I tell people I’m doing it or just write and hope they find it?”
When I expressed some of these questions to a group of writer buddies, my friend Christine said something to the effect of “If you wrote about dog poop, I’d read it.” And I laughed at first, but then thought “Why not?”
Actually, one of my clearest early memories relates to dog poop. I was three or four years old and asked my mom if I could play outside on a wet spring day in northern Michigan. She said yes, but warned my brother John and I not to get dirty because we had to go somewhere in a few minutes. I went outside in my pale pink coat, white tights and Mary Janes, and my brother proceeded to chase me around the house until I fell in a patch of soggy dog poop. He laughed hysterically as I slowly stood up and went inside to meet my fate.
My guess is most of us have a story about dog poop. Maybe it’s a stand-alone memory, like the time your dog rolled in her own poop and you had to give her a bath with the hose and she freaked out, thereby covering you in poop as well. Or maybe your dog poop story is more of a hazy montage of all the times you beat your shoe against the stoop or the side of the house or dug at the tread with a stick hoping to dislodge the results of stepping in the wrong spot in the grass.
Maybe dog poop has also led to some revelations about life. Maybe in the wee hours of a summer morning, standing in the dewy grass as your puppy did his business, you felt at once supremely connected with the universe and yet somehow separate from it, marveling at its beauty like an appreciative visitor who decides all at once to move in and make this place home. Maybe you’ve scooped someone else’s dog’s poop out of your yard, muttering to yourself in self-righteous indignation about the lazy, inconsiderate jerks you are forced to share a planet with, and only days later found yourself standing in a neighbor’s grass, reaching for the plastic bag you stuffed in your pocket to collect your own dog’s poop, realizing too late that the bag somehow got out of your pocket and not only are you now that lazy, inconsiderate jerk who leaves dog crap in someone else’s yard, but you’re also the lazy, littering jerk who set a bird-killing plastic bag loose on the city.
All of the above dog poop experiences are mine, but my guess is at least one of them is recognizable to you, too. If you’ve ever had a dog, loved a dog, hated a dog, or lived or walked on a street on which dogs exist, chances are you’ve had an encounter with dog poop. Dog poop is ingrained in the modern human experience. It serves as a metaphor for relationships (we accept the poop because we love the dog,) we use it to describe poor quality, sometimes playing fast and loose with the laws of physics and matter (“I can’t believe what a piece of dog poop my cable service is!”) and as a descriptor for impossibly bad luck (the guy who was already having a bad enough day, and then stepped in dog poop.)
And really, that’s all writing – or any art, really – is: tapping into the universal human experience to evoke emotion (like, say, helping a reader reliving the utter disgust they felt when they decided to go barefoot on the first warm spring day of the season and stepped directly in a warm doo-doo pile) or inspire critical thought (like, say, why you shouldn’t make snap judgments of other people when they don’t really know if they deliberately failed to clean up dog poop or simply had a flyaway bag mishap.) Making people laugh, cry, remember, or just shake their heads and say “I have no idea what this no-talent hack is talking bout.” You can’t guarantee a response, but at least by putting yourself and your thoughts out there, you’re clearing a path to connection.
I didn’t need to worry that my hiatus from writing meant I wouldn’t be able to find my way back. And I didn’t need to over-think my return or how I would once again find the spark to put words on a page. Writer’s block doesn’t exist, because we always have dog poop, and (barring a scientific miracle) we always will.
And it turns out, dog poop is all you need.