No Backspaces

Sometimes it is better to say something even when you don’t know what is going to happen at the end of it.

When I was in college, I took a playwriting class, in an effort to continue to unlock artistic notes that may have somehow been locked away in my body. The class was a lot of fun and I learned a lot- but I learned in possibly the most challenging way I had ever experienced in academia. Our drafts were frequently written with the forbiddance of the backspace key on our laptops.

Coming into that class I assumed that plays were created by piecing key moments together; this was how I had gathered my knowledge base from my years in the theater in high school. To me the key was to always build to three our four core moments of a character development or to musical set pieces, and then move forward. I, not being a theater or performing arts major, followed this convention in any of my attempts to write anything fictional; trying to will a bunch of pieces from different puzzles into one coherent picture that made thousands of other people feel something. Desperately trying remix four classical songs into one larger symphony of original feeling and thought. This made writing into a war.

This classes insistence to go away from the delete key backed me into a creative corner that I was terrified of digging myself out of. All of my creative energy had been born in practice: rehearsing the blocking, rewriting the joke or the punchline, furiously editing an instant message or sending a draft to a friend before I talked to my crush. To write outside the confines of erasure was scary to me, but it unlocked the door to a true sense of improvisation: for once, I simultaneously knew what it was I wanted to create, and how it would end in that initial thought. The goal was no longer coherence but creativity. Writing without backspaces made me write from feeling and not from familiarity; instead of writing things that I knew would resonate with other people, I wrote what was resonating at me in that very moment. And by taking away the ability to adjust the picture, one is left with a raw image of what they were feeling in that very moment. It’s not art because it’s trying to be art, but it is art because it was made from personal streams of consciousness and nothing more.

The caveat here of course is that not all art should be the same. This method didn’t make me a genius playwright, or even a better appreciator of art. But it did teach me to appreciate rawness. For a long time I wrote to impress other people- finishing a draft on my Wordpress with thought of “yes, this will get liked. People will understand this.”- and while that was satisfactory in its own way, I don’t know how much more I could take from those pieces. They were not the same malleable, breathing pieces of emotion that came from eliminating the backspace key from my life.

I’m not a firm stickler to the rule. It is still a challenge to push forward in writing without trying to rephrase or reword, and in my profession that is an obvious requirement. But in this space of the internet, I want to strive to write beyond the backspace key. To put the things I’ve thought to virtual paper with no pretext or intent, but to let them live in their raw state.

We get so caught up in what other people think. I find myself spending days often where I feel like I haven’t thought a single thought of my own: from listening to a podcast into work, to listening to music while working, to watching Netflix until I fall asleep, I fear I’m cheating myself of creative opportunity. And with so many voices out there expressing themselves in their own way, I just want to try to find a place where mine is alive. Where I come to a page and I don’t know what’s going to come out of it. It’s not creativity for creativity’s sake. It’s creativity for sanity’s sake.

I’m not going to tell to do what I am doing. But I hope you find a way to force your soul to express itself in a way you never thought possible, only to come out the other side with an understanding of yourself clearer than you ever thought was possible. That was what stopping the backspace key did for me.

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