Night after night, I stared at the screen. I willed the words to come, opening blank documents and bare blog posts. But they wouldn’t. They didn’t.
Days went by. Then a week. Then … nothing.
I’ve heard others say that writer’s block isn’t real. That it’s our job as writers to simply push through those moments when the words are a jumble of nothing. We’re supposed to keep writing even when we feel we can’t. That’s what sets us apart as writers. And yet, writer’s block is real — even when we manage to push through and string words together. Because that writing, the kind that is forced, doesn’t come with the same emotion and tenor. It’s flat.
In a different time, with a different set of pressures, I might have forced myself to write something. I’d start at the end, perhaps. Or maybe I’d write chain of thought paragraphs until I found a point that resonated. Then I’d edit and reedit and edit again to massage the words into something that delivered a point, even if it didn’t feel impassioned. It would have been ok, even if it wasn’t my best work.
But I didn’t have deadlines to meet. In a way, I am glad I didn’t — pushing through would have been a lion’s work this time. I was so stuck. I waited.
When the fog — really, that’s what it felt like: a persistent, pervasive fog — began to lift, the ideas returned but still the words seemed distant. I tweeted, “I’ve barely written these last few weeks. It’s like part of my soul got chopped off. Time to get it back.” and shared a photo of my Create mug — the mug I bought when my work life was at a high and the creative work was greatly supported.
When I could speak the words to admit that I was a writer not writing, the words were finally brimming again.
That evening, finally, I sat down and began to write. The next morning, I wrote more, edited myself and then wrote again. It felt right.
The pressure we put on ourselves as writers is real. The need to put words to screens and papers is something so ingrained in us that it can feel like a black abyss to not be doing it. And yet, sometimes, they just aren’t there.
I am so glad to be out of that darkness now.
Much like writing, cooking is a skill that can be hampered by a mental block too. We never talk about chef’s block (I totally just made that up) but it’s real. It’s when you can’t wrap your head around devising a plan for dinner and even boiling water for pasta seems like too much. It’s when you find yourself making the same thing again and again because you can’t seem to think of anything else. And for someone who loves to cook, it’s harsh.
When you have a responsibility to feed others, chef’s block is a particularly acute affliction. You’re not just failing yourself and your skills but those people who rely on you too.
But unlike writing, there is a simple answer: new recipes. Pluck a cookbook from the shelf — cough, Grains as Mains, cough — and choose something you’ve never made before. Services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh can also help, forcing us to pole vault out of our cooking ruts by delivering new-to-us recipes and ingredients that we need to cook … or risk wasting a whole lot of money.
Or logon to your favorite food blog — Sarah’s Cucina Bella, naturally — and find something new to cook.
Perhaps you could make this … Garlic Ginger Soy Marinated Steak Tips. It’s a recipe with easy steps that will let you tiptoe your way back into cooking prowess. And, all the while, you’ll be making something that your loved ones will enjoy. That matters too.
Making this recipe — that process in of itself can be a rut-breaker — isn’t hard. A little grating, mincing and whisking is the most challenging part. Then you marinate the steak before cooking it.
The rich marinade gives the steak a pleasant flavor that pairs nicely with rice and sauteed veggies. Serve it as a rice bowl, if you like. And even if you aren’t facing chef’s block, you can make this. It’s good.
Garlic Ginger Soy Marinated Steak Tips
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 lb steak tips or kabob meat cut into 1-inch pieces
- Whisk together the olive oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger and garlic. Add the steak tips or kabob meat and mix together. Cover and marinate for at least 1 hour.
- Cook to desired tenderness.
How to cook (choose one):
- Stir-fry: Heat a skillet with 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Drain the marinade and add the steak tips to the pan. Cook, turning one, until they reach desired doneness -- 7-10 minutes. (good for well-done)
- Broil: Place on a baking sheet and broil for 3-4 minutes, flip and broil for an additional 3-4 minutes (good for a medium doneness)
- Grill: Thread on a skewer and grill on a heated grill to desired doneness, flipping once (about 3-4 minutes per side)
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. Her latest cookbook is The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook, published by Rockridge Press, which focuses on quick, easy, from-scratch cooking for busy people. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.