Well, I missed my deadline, but here is my wisdom for the week, none-the-less…
Douglas Adams said, “Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds.“
I think most of us, whether we want to be professional writers or not, have experienced this kind of pain… sans blood but perhaps with a good headache at least. I wonder if this is why students often “hate” English classes and so many papers and other assignments aren’t written until the twelfth hour. Actually, I don’t wonder. This is not a phenomenon of high school students or new college freshmen alone.
It reaches into the worlds of English majors, graduate students of every discipline, including English, professional writers, English professors, and all professions. I can tell which friends should be working on their theses or dissertations by how often they are on Facebook on a given day.
Why is this? I personally can get up in front of a group of people and speak with relative ease (I realize this is not the norm) and without losing my audience. My inflections and even the mood of the room- the palpable interaction (even when indirect) between me and an audience- helps me express myself. I can trip a bit on my words and be forgiven, for a live audience filters out such things and soon forgets them. But, the written word is forever, if we can avoid a rage that motivates us to rip our work into tiny pieces and then set them on fire.
We are judged by what we write, not just once but perhaps many times, as readers can go back and reread and rejudge what we’ve said, based on their interpretation of the words; there is no inflection, no facial expression, no “Ok, I can see by your faces that I wasn’t clear. Let me clarify.” And, again, it is permanent, or as Jen on The Dark Crystal describes writing, it is “words that stay”.
I think the idea that something that we write will “stay” can be paralyzing. It makes many of us feel the weight of what we write (as it should). We know that we will be influencing others, and we know that we will be critiqued. It is one thing to have a friend critique our work but what about millions (if we’re lucky) of strangers?! People who don’t know us and will be brutally honest?
Besides that, there are millions of ways to express ourselves with language. It can be tiring getting it just right. At the same time, it is vital we do. So we wrestle with the words until we’re exhausted, not able to move enough to even roll off the mat. But, we could look at writing just a little differently: what if instead of seeing it as a wrestle, we looked at it as a dance? Then we would feel less like we are fighting the words and more like we are working with them and them with us. Something to ponder.