Connect with us


Oluwadunsin Deinde-Sanya: What it Means When a Writer Cannot Write



I jolt awake at 6am. NEPA (or what do they call themselves now?) restores power and the noise from the OX standing fan is playing right inside my head. I get up to put if off and embrace the silence that comes with it. But the silence is eerie and like venomous snakes ready to waggle their tongue and strike, thoughts slither their way into my head, clouding it, pricking my brain; tugging at it slowly until my head begins to pound.

The morning is cool but I am sweating and my heart beats too hard against my chest. Everything seems to be ringing inside my head: the to to to of the morning dew dropping from the ceiling; the preacher yelling many streets away; the chickens crowing, the dogs barking. I shake my head, and wobble as I try to get up. My fingers shake slightly as I reach for my MacBook. I flip it open, the half-eaten apple comes to life. I punch in my password and open an empty google document. 

Then, like I have done in the past few weeks, I stare at the blank sheet for the next 3 hours.


In Spartacus, the Gladiators were nothing without their swords. They must have, on too many occasions, dreamt of freedom. But while they were in the arena, the sword was their life – it was an acceptance of their fate, a way to make sense of what their lives had become. They were nothing without it; empty barrels of wine to be kicked into the abyss.

It is the same with me. Writing is what I know. It is all I know. Except unlike the gladiators, I am something without my pen and no, I shall never be flung into nothingness. Writing, to me, is a fundamental way in which I make sense of my life. I cannot look in the mirror for fear of what I may see, neither do I want you to tell me who I am. So I sit in the orangeness of the earth, the one that heralds the dusk. There, in the tall uncompleted building, on a mat, my legs stretched before me, my laptop on my laps and a piece of cloth I use in wadding off flies, and I have a conversation with myself – my left hand talking to my right, my mind talking to my brain, my soul telling my body and my brain cajoling my fingers.


There’s a way anxiety and depression creeps up on you, especially after you stop your therapy. Like comical characters, they rear their heads – their lips stretching to their temples, their half-crazed eyes weighed down by blue lashes, and their red noses twitching ludicrously. Sometimes, they do not creep, they bang the door, jerk it open rudely and scream “tadaaa” – like you are old pals happy to see one another again. If they were not here to kill, one would have found them amusing or invited them to dinner.

I find myself wanting and longing and this thirst is never quenched. Desperate, I grasp my pen and yet, its ink trickle through my fingers, sliding past its walls into the sand that drinks it up. I feel this vacantness that comes with not being able to write. Like a gladiator without a sword. And I try. I try. But the more urgent my need to write, the less accessible my brain has become. So I stare into the MacBook hoping that something, anything would come. But the pen is a serial cheat, a good-for-nothing lover that moves on when you do not oil its crotch or caress its breasts. Like some gods, you do not know what to do to satiate it when it is vexed. Like other gods, the pen needs constant sacrifices, meals of corn and yams and eggs – these eggs, truth to God, I do not have sometimes.


As night creeps up on the earth, I walk to Owode. It is many months – since the beginning of the pandemic – that I work from home, and in those months, I struggle with the cloak that shrouds my thoughts – or the expression of it. In my heart is a beat that never stops playing and in my head are swirling thoughts that never settle. I hate what it has become, my head. A home filled with indefinable ideas and stories that remain as they are – thoughts. Little patches and spots that I cannot have a hold on, put to paper, or define.

The thing about jumpy thoughts is that they consume you. They are there when you try to read. When you walk. As you pray. When you work, they are tugging at your heart and jabbing at your fingers. When you write, they are whispering into your ears. They are not good enough to be formed into anything tangible, still they will not give room to worthy thoughts.

As I walk to Owode, I try to confront my thoughts but I am unsuccessful. I ask my heart why it is letting anxiety consume me. I ask my brain why it cannot define my thoughts and put together my scattered words. I ask my fingers why they cannot write out these words. But I do not get answers so I go back home, my heart pounding harder, and more salty waters pouring out my pores.

There isn’t enough of me to go around, and it seems too many things are calling me from different angles – they seem so far, yet so near. For weeks, this steady sense of balance has been absent, and my head seems to be descending into an incomprehensible buffoonery. A joke that writes itself. Many times I find myself just staring blankly, my eyes unseeing, my head empty, all sense of excitement and inspiration gone. Sometimes I try hard; I read, walk, listen to music but all that come  to me are fleeting thoughts that cannot be captured in nets. So again I sink into nothingness and let my soul and body float ‘tween the skies and earth. Not here. Not there.

I do not know what happens when a writer cannot write. But I know this sense of desertion, like something has left you. And this fear that it will not come back, and the anxiety that bedevils a writer’s every path. I know what it feels like to sink and swim and when one gets to the shore, the comical characters show up again, their lips pulled up to their temples, and fling one back into black waters. 

Perhaps my romance with the pen and words pulled off-kilter when so many responsibilities cried for my attention. I do not know. But I shall find my way back.

I always do. 



Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels

Star Features