By David Snyder
There’s no terror greater than that of the blank word document. Fortunately for us, we have the luxury of chugging away at the keyboard and then being able to throw it all away, without cramped hands and dry ink wells. I’ve often thought that so-called heroes, the sort of men and women who take bullets and fight fires, aren’t really sticking their necks out far enough. Any man can turn on the water spigot and point the hose. Now, make a man produce a thousand words of heft and he’ll know what real fear is all about.
I kid, of course. God only knows I’m a coward’s punchline. I melt at the setting off of the fire alarm, let alone the idea of rushing headfirst into a burning building or taking fire in the foxhole. Do we still have foxholes?
However, my own cowardice aside, there’s something to be said for the blank word document, for the blank canvas, the blank sheet of music. I’m no musician and I’m certainly no artist, but I’ve written or word or two, and I can, in fact, confirm that a piece written without a nudge is a piece that will never be done. Writing a paper for school, though a slog, is no sweat. After all, the topic is given and the argument is often easily made. The trouble arises when one calls oneself a writer, for then one is expected to write things, and to write damn good things.
I try my level best not to call myself a writer. Sure, I’ve written things. Just as a mother has tended to a scuffed elbow and a father has fixed a flat tire. But those actions don’t make them nurses and mechanics. Maybe I’m defensive about the whole thing, which is often the case. But what I know to be true is the difficulty of sitting down and writing not under the instruction of a professor or the demands of a boss, but under one’s own will and whim.
I do most of my writing at coffee shops and generally populated places. I love the buzz of the conversations and the rude little stares people give one another in the close quarters of outdoor patios. I’ll often park myself at a table, preferably outside, buy myself the darkest roast in the joint, and settle in for the long haul back at the keyboard. The next step is the longest of them all: staring at the screen, waiting for the apple to fall and hit me on the head. I don’t need to discover gravity, but five hundred or so words will do.
The best thing about writing outside is that there’s always some eclectic scene unfolding all around. This is the thing that gets the first sentence on the page. Sitting at my desk at home, cozy as it is, there’s no spark worth a damn. But in the midst of the hustle and bustle, well, that’s a wholly different story. Sometimes all it takes is the look of a small boy’s face or the color of a woman’s hair; the most seemingly trivial of information that meets my eye can set me off about who knows what. Usually, I’ve been mulling something over in the old bean for a while, struggling to pluck it out, until something completely unrelated catalyzes the whole thing.
That first sentence may take a moment or it may take an hour. With certain ideas, that first sentence may take a lifetime. I imagine a painter aches over where exactly to place the first brush stroke and which color to use. After all, that placement and hue might very well set the tone for the whole work. I imagine a pianist crumples up and tosses away hundreds of sheets of music, each contains only a fragment of the first line of music, as he or she struggles to put to paper what they need to tell the world. But, after that first line touches the paper and isn’t met with revulsion, it’s all downhill from there. The great rush of art is the starting line, the tipping point.
For this piece, I wrote first lines about the seemingly Martian hue of Mr Trump’s face, the glories of writing titles for pieces and imagined books, and of a tale from one of my professors. All were fine, I’m sure, not to me, but still. But none of them made pumped the adrenaline through my veins to pound away at the letters like an inspired pianist thunders through the keys and the painter slashes and wills the paint onto the canvas.
The trick? Sit outside and wait for something to happen. It doesn’t really matter what that something is. Just keep your eyes peeled and a word document open.