You know my pain, and that’s why I write to you now. You too have sat before a blank screen for hours, and hours, staring at a blinking cursor, feeling devoid of thought, frustrated, even depressed. Like me, you have never found the term ‘writer’s block’ satisfying. Writer’s block sounds like an acute affliction, something that can be overcome simply, and swiftly, by writing. No, this is something worse, something chronic, and something deeply embedded in our psyches.
In a word, as you of course know, writing is hard. It’s hard to know exactly what you want to say, and once you’ve figured it out, even harder to say it. And if you actually care about how you say something, the aesthetic effect your words will have on a reader, then it’s even harder. It takes multiple false starts, re-written sentences, seemingly endless mid-sentence pauses as you search your internal dictionary for the absolute perfect word.
We’ll do anything to avoid the unique pain that writing can bring about. We’ll watch TV, go for a walk, call a friend, make plans — whatever can happen right now. In fact, I’m writing this post in lieu of going back into that painful place at this very moment. I’ve spent a week struggling to find the right way to begin an article I was recently assigned to write, and what’s worse is that it was my idea. So why can’t I find the words to write about it?
The answer, I believe, is that the more you write, the more you want your writing to be as good as the stuff you read. In other words, you want the ideas that are rattling around in your head to already exist in their clearest, most readable state — all you have to do is point your fingers at that blank computer screen a la some cartoon wizard and voila! you’ve got your article.
But we all know this doesn’t happen, and even the writing we admire the most was produced under the same duress as the pain I’m experiencing now, and that you’ve experienced as well. And like the writers of that work, we have to simply push our way through it, find those words, even if they’re the wrong words, and start writing, deleting, writing again, deleting again, and finally, after hours and hours of work, arrive at the point where we can polish our prose until it’s something even we would want to read.
When that happens, as it often does, it’s as if you didn’t write those words at all — and that’s the greatest reward we can ask for. I’d say ‘If only it weren’t so painful,’ but I know the pain can’t be avoided. It’s the thing that keeps the whole damn system working, and working, and working. And so it goes.