I believe writer’s block is an affectation experienced by successful authors who have made enough money to let their egos be picky.
I am not a successful author. I’m a former journalist, maybe even a failed one.
But I have found it hard to write of late.
I am tired. The fall semester drained me. The classes were hard. They shook my confidence. I went from knowing I could teach to thinking I could teach.
Maybe that swing is good. A person needs to earn swagger. I earned a little in paragraph stacking, but I have none in teaching.
I begin student teaching in January.
I have some decisions to make about my public writing before then.
I have lived a partially public life in the age of social media.
I have accounts on all the major platform and about 11,000 combined followers.
That’s not much if you’re Beyonce.
It’s decent if you’re some random fat guy in the Midwest who typed up police reports and weather stories for the local newspaper.
The decision: Do I delete all those accounts?
The easiest answer is “yes.”
The problem is I sometimes say things on these platforms that people find objectionable.
I try to stay out of politics and religion, although I’ve dipped into both over time.
Mom 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines hairdresser who raised me after my parents died, always tried to keep those topics out of her beauty shop. I keep them out of my feed as best I can.
But everything is an argument these days.
I’ll give you an example: I have not been very excited about the most recent actor to play the lead in “Doctor Who.”
I don’t blame the actor, not really. I just don’t think the stories are very good.
I voiced this opinion in the comic shop. One of the employees sighed heavily and said, “The world was not ready for its first female Doctor.”
The implication in that comment is that the reason I don’t like the show is because I don’t like women.
I said nothing. I paid for my comics and left.
I wanted to reply and make my point more clearly, but any protest would have led to politics, which the shop owner tries to avoid for the same reason Mom 2.0 did.
I’m sure if I kept talking, I would be accused of sexism or misogyny. It’s not a conversation worth having.
This was a real-world conversation, where you can read body language and tone.
Now take that conversation online, remove context and any sense of sanity.
The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Victimhood rules the internet.
If I were to make such a comment about disliking “Doctor Who” stories in recent seasons online, one of them might find me and decide I was the worst person in the world.
Then they might go on quest to wreck my life.
A person with whom you disagree about “Doctor Who” must not be able to have a job or get a cup of coffee. They must be shunned and forced to the edges of society.
Employers hate controversy. They have a business to run. Bosses don’t need their employees drumming up problems for them by what say on the internet.
First Amendment free speech protections only prevent the government from muzzling you. Your employer can absolutely tell you to shut up about your opinions on “Doctor Who” or clean out your desk.
I plan to work in public schools.
If all goes as planned — and, please, God, let me get what I want this time — I will be ending my first semester as a fully licensed teacher by this time next year.
I have no intention of rocking the boat with mean tweets about “Doctor Who” episodes — or anything else for that matter.
So, do I just spike the whole thing?
Do I kill the blog? Should I delete Facebook, Twitter, and the rest?
I think maybe I should.
However, I also think I enjoy writing for an audience and the people who read this blog have been very kind and loyal to me for the past couple years, some of the worst in my adult life.
There are other options.
I could make the blog, Facebook page, and Twitter private. I could control who is in and who is out.
I know some people who do that just so they can complain about the terrible play of the Chicago Bears with a wider range of vocabulary than is allowed at the Methodist Sunday night potluck.
I don’t know how successful making accounts private is. I figure if you put it out there, eventually someone who is serious about getting to it will get to it.
What am I going to do?
I don’t know.
I don’t have to decide today.
Maybe over a couple glasses of eggnog and some holiday cheer, I’ll have an epiphany.
Until then, save me a snowman cookie and keep telling your story.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
The internal debate is real! Self-censorship in the interest of public consumption can be hard.
Authenticity and vulnerability is also hard.
I’ve appreciated your writing since long before I found this blog – looked forward to your articles in the newspaper. I hope you keep writing publicly because the world needs to hear your stories – particularly the authentic, vulnerable human how-do-we-get-through-this-together and the wow-what-a-wonderful-world moments.
But I also know there’ll be a matter of time and professional boundaries as you begin teaching.
Best wishes and much wisdom as you sort it out.
This is a tough choice, one I hadn’t considered when you went back to school. I’m assuming that you have discussed this with fellow students, perhaps even in class. Maybe you can get some advice from any teachers that you know. I’d sure miss not reading your stories, as I did in the newspaper and then on this blog. But if you need to go dark, at least for awhile, I would definitely understand. The internet is frequently not a kind place, and as a public servant, any teacher can be a target. No one needs that kind of hassle, and the teaching profession needs you, so do what you need to do. Best of luck.
I’m very sad to read this. Like others, I really enjoy your stories. You connect with people in a way that not many are able to do; and that connection comforts us. We are all together in our struggles when we read your stories. However, you are not wrong about being in public as a teacher. So you have quite a serious dilemma. I vote for the private, well-vetted audience; but that might be impossible. (I sure can see how.) Happy Holidays Mr. Daniel Finney! We will see what the next year brings. (And for what it’s worth, “Dr. Who” lost me when Russell Davies ( and crew) moved on… even though I loved the actors in the following seasons. I was so spoiled by Davies’ expertise in blending his well crafted stories with the excellent precisely timed music, that I couldn’t watch. I always felt hollow by the bombast of syrupy music and overly convoluted story plots. I have not seen Jodi Whittaker, although I read she is fantastic. Of course we would love a female Dr.Who, but she must be crafted and curated; as a Russell Davies skill would do.)
Maybe do a little of both? One for input, and one for enjoyment — but only if you truly have the time.
When I’m teaching, I like to hear from people about what teachers did that students (and parents and administrators and staff and substitute teachers) appreciated, what were the greatest disappointments with teachers, what was confusing or frustrating and seemed pointless, what creative ideas worked or failed — the list goes on and on. And it’s interesting to hear from the parents of kids who have strong opinions about teachers (and parent’s views on that, too). When you hear what other teachers do, there’s almost always a way to learn from that and be able to connect with students better (which is the key to teaching). A public blog is not a bad way to seek that kind of input, or to feature a teacher/parent/student with a great story or a disastrous story or a truly hilarious story. I still love chemistry, because my chem teacher did all kinds of dopey, silly things that seemed like entertainment, but once we were smiling and laughing, he slipped in a whole lot of learning for us, and he made sure that he checked in with every student during the lab time. I’ve never used chemistry in my life, but I still love to read about it and talk with chemists when I run across them. And the best teacher evaluation I ever received was from a student who said, “we never did busy work, every assignment and every reading had a point, and you didn’t hide the point from us, and you let us spend more time on the things that we liked or were good at.” (And this student demonstrated that I don’t always grade on good English, because sometimes it’s more important to connect than to critique.)
The private blog may be a more difficult one to maintain, because many parents feel that they are part-owners of the teacher’s life and too often, they are more than willing to mercilessly critique the public and the private lives (and writings) of teachers, especially public school teachers. No one outside of the teaching profession appreciates the time and energy required to prep a course, teach it, and (ugh!) grade papers. And connect with students on an individual level, which is rewarding and exhausting. You’re a journalist, which makes you far more comfortable with a public persona that is connected to something that you (or others) care about. The personal blog is for those of us groupies who like you personally (whether we know you personally or not) and it’s hard — for you and us — to think about giving up the blog we enjoy. But we know that you need to do what’s best for you, and in our unselfish moments, that’s what we want, too.
No good deed goes unpunished. Yet, where would we be without them?
I would be so sad to lose this blog. However, those kids need you. Please do what you need to do. An occasional check in from you would be appreciated. Thank you Mr Finney!