Friday, July 9, 2010

Fill in the blank

(this was an assignment for the "Writing for Effect" class I'm in)

A blank page can be terrifying. In my early college days, I assumed that once one gained the ever-elusive status of writer, words would flow effortlessly from pen – or keyboard – to paper. Those illusions (delusions?) quickly vanished, of course, but it is still comforting to hear other writers admit their easy-to-read stylings take real effort. Effort they don’t always want to expend. In today’s “Writing for Effect” class, four writers did just that.

“Writing is work,” Collide Magazine contributer Ben Simpson confessed. He described the hardest part as simply sitting down to begin writing. I’m discovering that most writers seem to have a very similar method of procrastination. We research. Then we make sure every possible tool is aligned just so. In the process, we discover that our favorite pen is missing. So we clean the desk, empty the trash, visit everyone else working on the same floor, send a few e-mails, plan the grocery menu for next month and finally, resentfully, stare at the blank page – the mocking, vicious, evil blank page.

Each time we swear to ourselves – and maybe our editors – that next time we’ll have the assignment in way before deadline. But we all know it isn’t true. “Deadline will grind everything out of you into a lump of something,” said Joe Bollig, staff writer for the Kansas Catholic paper, The Leaven. Very vague -- but also very fitting. Deadline defines the writer. At deadline, everything within a writer is laid out on the block to be examined. If your “lump of something” is acceptable, you live to write another day. We opt not to think about what happens otherwise.

It is torture. And yet, we keep returning. We have to. Because, as Joe points out, we’ve heard the “music and poetry of language.” At some point we put a handful of words together and realized just how powerful – how beautiful – language can be. We keep returning because along the way, amidst the deadlines and procrastination and banging heads against the wall, we fell in love. One of my favorite lines of Shakespeare is Hamlet’s description of what he is reading: “words, words, words.” To a writer, there is no greater – and no more terrifying – sound.