Chopping Away at the Writer’s Block and the ADHD

Image of a dictionary entry for "focus."
©Beret Olsen 2022

I don’t know what frustrates me more about writing—struggling to start or struggling to finish. Maybe it’s all that floundering in the murky middle.

I’ve been proofreading a book about teaching middle and high school students to write. The advice therein for students with writer’s block provides little solace and no end of entertainment for me. That said, here I am typing away. At last! A topic! It took me twenty-eight minutes to get creaking along on this trajectory after three false starts in completely different directions: one about missing my kids, one about lies I’ve told them, and one about the sound of snowfall. Each of those ideas petered out before I had two complete sentences.

Now look: I am actually writing about not being able to write. (stops. has a few swigs of coffee and readjusts the seating situation.) (Googles genetic splicing for a story that refuses to be finished, then watches a fascinating YouTube video about CRISPR.) (sits and stares at screen. has more coffee.)

One suggestion for writer’s block is to use a thesaurus. Has the author tried this? (types several unfriendly comments about this advice. erases them.) (sits and swigs coffee.) (recalls a sixth grade writing assignment, for which the thesaurus was a major crutch. shudders at the misguided use of the word “prestidigitator” and so many other poor choices. remembers the severe scolding received in the margins.)

Perhaps the problem is that I am looking for ideas about character motivation—or an actual plot—not for words. I love words. I can think about words all day. Case in point: crestfallen. Is that not the most poetic term? (looks it up.) I have always assumed that it simply meant disappointed, but turns out it includes an element of shame. News to me. (looks around in the Os with no purpose. just likes Os.) There’s odoriferous, which not only is a delight to say aloud, but also can be used to mean morally offensive. That could come in handy. (thinks about people and things that would like to call odoriferous.)

I’m old school, so in addition to online resources, I have the eleventh edition of Merriam-Webster’s next to me at all times. We are good friends. Merriam often opens to the page with “chowderhead” at the top left, just to bait me. True. This has happened at least twenty-five times. She reminds me that there is such a thing as “couch grass” and “funk hole;” that cats can be “fubsy.” We laugh a lot about these sorts of things. Imagine if someone like me also had a thesaurus sitting by my side. I would never get around to writing!

(sips lukewarm coffee. stares at screen.) (looks at meme about pronouncing certain words as if they were the names of Greek heroes: Articles. Tentacles. Barnacles.)

But the one suggestion on the list that I keep coming back to is this: Lower your expectations.

I’m still digesting that one.

That advice is so terrible, it is genius. So wrong and so right at the same time.

My expectation, unfortunately, is that I will not finish this.

Image of the index notches on the side of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.
©Beret Olsen 2022

The Terrifying Truth about Dung Bunnies


I used to love snail mail. Despite the fact that my mailbox was mostly stuffed with adverts and bills and eye appointment reminders, getting a real live letter was so delicious that it was always worth a check.

Now I am afraid to look.

The transition happened very gradually. As the years flew by, there were fewer and fewer Victoria’s Secret catalogs, and a lot more Pottery Barn Kids. Not surprising, really. Once I’d ordered diapers online, all hell broke loose. Not that I minded looking at baby clothes now and then, but I was a little offended that the folks in the marketing department assumed I had switched to sensible undergarments.

As my kids got a bit older, my junk mail haul further devolved into catalogs of clogs and tchotchkes. I didn’t fully digest the severity of the situation until I found myself staring at a picture of a dung bunny. That’s right. An adorable rabbit statue made of manure. You leave it in your garden and as it decomposes, it adds vital nutrients to the soil. Suddenly, I realized: I am f*#!ing old. Some marketing director took one look at my profile and decided, “This lady does not exercise or travel. She no longer needs yoga pants or Bose speakers or groovy furnishings. This lady putters in her garden and makes loving decisions about mother earth. It is way more important for her ogle progressive, thoughtful novelty items than anything else the commercial world has to offer.”


Then, a couple of weeks ago, The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World arrived:

heifer internatl

That’s right. Heifer International sent me a catalog. What demographic does that put me in? Wait. Don’t answer that. I definitely don’t want to know.

Next up was a magnetic schedule of the San Francisco 49ers with a plumber’s contact information on it.


I don’t get it. What is the connection? Let’s see, my toilet is broken, but I wonder when the game starts? And why me? Am I so old they think I can’t look up game times and phone numbers online?

Monday. The final straw. I received a postcard from a life coach.

life coach

Great. Now I can lie awake wondering where my life is going and whether my spouse loves me. You know, I didn’t need the life coach until I checked the mail. I’m not calling this one, though. If they can make me feel this horrible by sending me a postcard, why would I want to spend time and money for continued contact?

Most importantly: did they review my past purchase patterns and assume I needed some help?

Or…maybe they just read my blog.


How Benedict Cumberbatch kept me up all night

Benedict Cumberbatch is on the right. His sidekick, Martin Freeman's name has never kept me up at night.  Image from
Benedict Cumberbatch is on the left. On the right is Watson, a.k.a. Martin Freeman, whose name has never led to any late-night musings. Image from

Over the years, I’ve had so many good reasons for insomnia. Indeed, there are endless possibilities for an important late night worry.

Last night was not one of them.

I’d stayed up later than usual watching the season premiere of Sherlock. It was a bit of a nail-biter–or would have been, if I did that sort of thing. Instead, I squeezed the spouse’s leg and ate chocolate. Not surprisingly, I was a little amped up when the show finally finished, but even then, I might have managed a decent sleep if I hadn’t started thinking about the Benedict Cumberbatch name generator.

Have you tried it? There’s not much to it. All you do is push the make name button and it produces a random pair of ‘words’ with the same lilting poetic meter as Benedict Cumberbatch’s name. Many of the combinations are moderately amusing–(c.f., “Snozzlebert Toodlesnoot” and “Muffintop Wafflesmack”)–but my first hit was:

“Blubberbutt Snugglesnatch.”

That was it for me, really.

For hours I lay in bed, trying to be still. I did not want to wake the spouse or worse, get booted from the warm bed. Just when I would start to feel a bit sleepy, though, a new combination would form in my head, and I would have to record it for posterity. Smug but wide awake once more, I would sift through the contents of my brain, looking for the next most hilarious thing. I bet I spent half an hour bemoaning the fact that “dingleberry” was four syllables.

I thought I was ridiculously clever, even after I gave up on two-word combos and started jotting down any old three-syllable word. By light of day, I can assure you that none struck me as funny as it did in the middle of the night. Still, I have included an excerpt from my notes in the hopes that you might be inspired to leave your suggestions in the comments. No doubt I’ll need something entertaining to read at 2 am some night soon.

Burlybutt Nancypants

Mumblebuns Cumbercrap

Cozyshack Snagglepatch

Knickerbock Weeniewart

Crappyass Cumberbuns

Cuddleknob Poodleboob

Now, if only I had the energy and focus to do what I was supposed to be doing.

Grown Up

I went to a party this weekend–the kind with save-the-dates and RSVP’s.

A twenty-four hour party, in a house full of favorite people.

We had long conversations,

and random, hilarious exchanges in the kitchen, doubling over and holding the counter for support.

As the light faded, a surf band materialized…

and a truckload of barbecue,

margaritas in mason jars,

ping pong, dancing,

and heat lamps on the giant patio.


Then, around 10 pm, I started thinking about that great book in my bag,

and the pile of pillows on my fuzzy blanket

and I wondered:

am I a little under the weather? Or just old?


Special bonus! One of my favorite poems of all time:

Grown Up

Was it for this I uttered prayers,
And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs,
That now, domestic as a plate,
I should retire at half-past eight?

– Edna St. Vincent Millay

What I have learned from the Tenderloin

Having two children and a husband who travels frequently, I don’t get out much.  The other day, I looked at where I was and what I was doing and had a complete conniption.  I turned to the woman next to me and demanded, “When and how did I turn into a f*cking soccer mom?!”  She may have laughed weakly before changing the subject to PTA memos, or box top collections, or some other topic to fuel my identity crisis.  Thank god one of the soccer dads started bringing comfortable chairs and adult beverages to practice.  That has really made my descent into personal hell more tolerable.

In light of this realization, I have been making a concerted effort to get out into the wide world once in a while.  A few days ago, that brought me to the Tenderloin.  There are definitely a few things to be learned from the seedy parts of San Francisco.

1.  Do not tell a gigantic, inebriated man that his Rottweiler is cute.

Though I’ve always assumed that, luckily I didn’t have to be the one to test the theory out. I did have to cross the street, however.  What a ruckus.

2.  The Tenderloin is a good place to be invisible.

I saw a man hobbling horribly on a crutch suddenly tuck it under his arm and ride off on a bicycle.  No one batted an eye.  If that sort of behavior passes under the radar, I imagine no one would notice if you fixed your bra-strap, or took care of that annoying crusty bit flapping around your left nostril.  Hell, you could have a whole garden variety melt-down there, and you’d blend right in.  It’s cheaper than therapy.

3.  Fancy shmancy organic-type Whole Paycheck markets are just as ridiculously expensive in economically under-resourced parts of town.

While I am thankful to find something besides del Taco for my snack emergencies, how do these places stay in business?  Where are the tasty food trucks?  The tamale lady? Happy hour?  That’s right.  Not here.  Might be time to head to Tu Lan.  Definitely don’t use the bathroom, but the food is tasty and cheap, and if I remember correctly, Julia Child used to slum it here when she wasn’t partying in her limo.  I’ve heard some stories.

4.  Seedy parts of town foster creativity.

I saw the most pathetically amusing and/or revolting painting of my entire life hanging in a place of prominence in a loin-y gallery.  Imagine a tiny, cluttered venue–art crammed into every cranny–devoting an entire wall to one enormous canvas.  Mostly it is a giant color field of oil paint, with a shit-brown lump at the bottom, and a little white unicorn in the the center.  I think the unicorn was crying; I might have made that part up, though.  At the top, in swirly, girly hand lettering, it says:  “I’ll never find true love…” followed by a very melancholic curlicue.  That thing is burned on my retinas.  It was awesome.  I dare you to find something like that at 49 Geary.

5.  In dire times, the first thing to go are your dreams for the future.

For some reason, I decided it would be cool to look at people’s old funky stuff.  I meandered into some pawn shops.  Have you noticed?  All of the pawn shops are clustered around the courthouse.  I had never thought about that before.  And guess what people hock to get out of jail?  Musical instruments and engagement rings.  Almost exclusively.  It is deeply depressing.  Why not get rid of…I don’t know…some technological gadget? A Blackberry?  The wii?  Or a TV?  Why not guns?  Get rid of that thing!  It didn’t help you out this time, did it?  And where you’re going, they’ll probably take it away at check-in. But no.  Love and music.

I suppose there are a lot of other lessons to be learned out there, but right now, I need to get some healthy snacks together for practice today.  And a big jug of wine.

Looking for the Cure

It’s pretty sad that I am already experiencing writer’s block a mere 3 days into the Post-a-Day Challenge.  Luckily, I happened upon this nugget of wisdom as I was fishing for inspiration on other folks’ blogs:  “Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.  Just write poorly.  Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.” -Seth Godin

While Godin does have a point, I’m not completely convinced it’s necessary to write poorly in public–and I have a hunch that my readers might have some reservations as well.  Consequently, I will take this moment to write a bunch of crap in my little notebook instead.  You’re welcome.

Mastering the Art of Fine

I came from a family where excerpts of Amy Vanderbilt’s Etiquette were read with alarming frequency at the dining table.  We must have been slow learners.  Though it seems unlikely Amy would have condoned the fork jabbing I got for interrupting my father, I was certainly programmed to follow the rules.  Consequently, I know what I’m supposed to say when people ask me how I am.  But why ask at all if no one really expects a meaningful answer?

There are those awkward moments, of course–standing next to someone too lurky, quick-witted, or dashing for me to concentrate properly–when I find myself saying, “How are you?”as desperate filler.  In such instances, even if I might possibly care about the answer, most likely I cannot even hear it.  I am too busy plotting how to weasel out of my clammy-handed corner without drawing too much attention to myself.

But usually I genuinely want to know.  Therefore I feel some sort of moral imperative to answer frankly.  This can be a very bad idea.

The other day, I was really in the abyss, but I decided to drag myself out for some Culture and Shmoozing.  I have no clue why this seemed important in my state, but I got a sitter and shoved myself into something fancy-ish.  Hurtling across town, I practiced, “Fine.  And you?” in a relaxed and self-confident manner.  I knew I was going to see someone who intimidates me terribly.  Someone who makes me sweat but could totally change my life if I could just get her attention and assistance.  My plan was to have a casual chat, perhaps fawn just enough, and then hit her up for a wee bit of advice and support.

The moment of truth.  She turned and smiled when she saw me.  “How are things going?” she asked.  Guess what?  Not well.  My oldest child is depressed and anxious.  A good friend recently betrayed me.  My projects have completely stalled, my husband is out of town, and everything at home is in meltdown mode.  To top it off, I threw my back out vomiting repeatedly while dangling from the driver’s seat.  (My apologies to the kind people on Reposa Street).  I looked at her and started having an out-of-body sort of moment.  I saw myself manage a weak smile.

“It’s a mixed bag,” I squeaked before disappearing into the crowd.  I figure that’s progress.

Over My Head

Well, it looks like I may have lost my mind.  Decided to sign up for Post a Day to MAKE myself start writing on a regular basis…mainly because there are only 30 more days until Novel Writing Month!  November’s going to be a fucking self-imposed nightmare, so apparently I’m going to try and stress myself out all through October and use up all of my good ideas before the real writing needs to happen.