I had a professor once who advised us that the best thing for a writer to do is write something. Shut off the inner critic and the self-reflective editor and just write. I think I’m in the mood to do that.
This is what happened. I was about to go to bed about an hour ago and I was rummaging under the bed for my duffle bag. I need to have it handy because my daughter and I are going on a trip tomorrow morning. There’s a whole bunch of books scattered under my bed, and one of them is a slim paperback titled MURDER IN THE DARK by Margaret Atwood. I had forgotten I had it. So I stretched out on the bed and started to read. It’s a book of prose vignettes. At first I decided I would read one. Then I read another. And another. I was absorbed.
Here’s where the inspiration comes in: I’ve decided to write a prose vignette of my own. It’s called “Writing”. Here it is.
You want to write but the problem is that you like the idea of being a writer better than actually writing. It’s like teenagers who want to be doctors but hate science and would hate medicine if they actually knew the first thing about it. You decide to write and the first few words come out, then sentences, then the next thing you know, you have a paragraph. It isn’t very good. But then you remember that no one is going to read your writing anyway so you feel strangely assured and you keep writing. But halfway through the first page you are struck by an existential crisis of sorts: why write something that no one is ever going to read? Is there any point? You think back to previous instruction and come up empty except for one teacher you had back in your first year of university (which was really undertaken at a community college because your grades were too poor to go straight from high school to university). The teacher said that writing is good for the soul. It sounded like a cliche and who knows, maybe it is, but you’ve never forgotten it. But now, for the first time, staring at the half-completed page, you finally realize that the statement may not be true, that it is just as likely to be wishful thinking as profound insight. Who says writing is good for the soul? Who can possibly suggest that such a thing is an empirical fact? As you think these things a tiny voice inside your head, a homunculus, asks you what exactly you mean by “soul”, and what, if anything, this teacher meant, and whether it is actually a meaningful concept or whether it is just a metaphor for something completely banal, like “feeling better” or something along those lines. But you stop that train of thought at once. That way lies madness. You examine what you have written so far and are deeply depressed to find at least eight cliches.
This is it, you think. I have writer’s block. But the problem isn’t really writer’s block, which implies that you have something profound to say but no way to say it. Your problem isn’t writer’s block but thought block, brain block, consciousness block. You have nothing to say and no way to say it. And even if you did, who would listen?
But in spite of it all you keep writing. You write several pages, all in beautiful printed letters with stylistic flourishes. Every ‘i’ is dotted and every ‘t’ is crossed in a fashion that any handwriting expert would easily recognize as your own distinct style. Don’t kill someone and leave this writing near the body; you will be doomed by circumstantial evidence. Even as you finish the last of the pages you are haunted by the steadily-growing realization that these words will never exist in any mind other than your own. They will outlive you but only as a monument to futility. But still you complete the pages and dream about the future.
Rick Rauser (2015)