Sunday, September 16, 2012

When the Well Runs Dry: Writing and Nothingness


When you approach the daily writing session or, as occasional warm-up, these random observations, there are words but no narrative glue.  You begin reaching into the narrative equivalent of the spaces between the cushions of a sofa or easy chair, searching for another metaphor, the small change of attitude, left behind from some other transaction during the day.

In this case, the equation does balance in an arithmetical if not metaphoric way.  If the well is dry so far as writing is concerned, the reason is clear.  You’ve brought nothing to it.

You find the well dry because you have brought no energy to the process, not the energy of addled and pent-up frustration, not the drive of outright displeasure or anger, not the sublime, soaring sensation of enthusiasm or pleasure, not the feelings of hunger you associate with curiosity, and for a certainty, not the impish, mirthful exuberance of mischief.

The well will be dry as well if you bring neither youth nor age nor middle age.  There will be no sense of impatience or even the fearful potential that the well is dry because the well is as leaky as a knock-off raincoat of unknown provenance.

Most days, you are much like the peddlers and drummers of old, carrying an array of wares with you, most accommodating to any vagrant idea that comes by and wishes to take up a life with you.  A few yards of sarcasm here, a ribbon of mirth there, and a make-up-your-mind flare of impatience when the idea does not seem to know how it wishes to present itself.

There is a lingering flame of fear at the thought you might on any given day resort to laundry list making or, worse yet, dear diary, today I had lunch with the gang, took a nap, bought the week’s groceries, browsed this week’s New Yorker.    All this and not a word of how you felt about it or what the downstream consequences of such forms of record keeping would have on your need to keep your feelings and vision alert.

There are empty wells all about you; reference works and accounts of varying degrees of accuracy, but these wells are factual.  They cannot show you how to feel; you have to show yourself how.

To be sure, there are full wells about you, men, women, and young writers, producing the deft braids of observation, understanding, and imaginative presentations of emotional information to the point where you understand how daunting it is to communicate such braids and at the same time how important it is to try.

In some ways, sitting to pursue your work time at a project, only to discover the well has dried is like coming home or to your workspace, only to find a complete stranger in your customary place.  This individual looks like you, sounds somewhat as you do, but does not write like you, not in the least, and yet this individual on occasion turns in copy that purports to be from you.

This is not a time for politeness.  Writing is not a time for politeness, at least, not writing writing.  Google writing and Wikipedia writing and Yahoo writing are often direct, straightforward, often fact checked with great purpose.  But they are not writing writing; they have no quirks or seething rancor or the giddiness of awl-sharp language and emotional penetration, nor do they cast shadows on the walls of the inner reader.

Coming to work empty-handed is only a disaster if you let the emptiness talk you down from your purpose, which is to believe enough in what you’re doing and the format in which you’re doing it to lean on the horn if there are any slow, clotting words in the sentences ahead of you.

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