For about the past two months, I have been experiencing some strange form of writer’s block. It’s not the variety that prevents one from writing anything at all (that would be much worse), but it is preventing me from writing anything good. And maybe that’s not exactly it either; maybe it’s more like this odd strain is keeping me from writing anything really good. And as far as I’m concerned, if it’s not really good, it’s crap. For the last many weeks, in my overly critical opinion, everything I’ve written is crap. Add one part partial writer’s block and two parts perfectionistic tendencies and it all gets wrapped up into a perfect storm of self-perceived crap.
I have been here before. In fact, although it feels more prolonged recently than it has in the past, the reality is this is my default. When it comes to my own writing, I like far less than what I don’t like. This is not to say that there is no value in the projects I fall short of what I believe to be perfection (or good) - there is value in everything I write, whether anyone else reads it or not (and believe me, there is plenty that never travels beyond my hard drive – some of it gets deleted before it even gets that far). It has more to do with style and flow and the artistry in the words than the words themselves – and lately I just have not felt as though I’ve nailed anything.
But I also know that in time, some of that might change. I have written much in the past that has come to mean something much more profound and enlightened than it did when it was written. So, too, I have written prose that I imagined rather brilliant at the time of conception that later come across as naïve – or even foolish. Yet the writing must continue for a number of reasons; perhaps the most important is that I have little choice. This is obviously true from a career perspective, but it is also true for more primal reasons. Writing is not only what I do best - it is what I do. It is my telos, it is among my primary purposes.
One of my professors boiled down the art of writing to simply this: “Know what you want to say and say exactly that.” He readily admits that this is much easier said than done. Language is so imprecise; there are myriad ways of lacing words together that say the same thing, but mean something entirely different. It is so much more than just the proper use of grammar, correct spelling and proper contextual definitions because the ways in which the words are assembled also convey logic, emotion and credibility. If that sounds familiar, it is because Aristotle told us of logos, pathos, and ethos around 2,500 years ago. What we say is every bit as important as how we say it.
At the moment, I must write and I must write some very specific words to transmit the results of the research I have conducted. It matters not if I am “feeling” it or not, the words must be written. They will meet half of the communicative goal – they will convey what I have discovered and hopefully they will support my premise. If the magic returns to me, however, they will also convey the passion of my ideas, the importance of the research and my commitment to my profession. All that must also be said with words, without actually saying so.