Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Five Paragraphs

I always capitalize Writer’s Block. It’s just out of respect. You would think that the master craftsmen of the literary vernacular could have come up with something more suitable. Writer’s Block doesn’t even begin to cover it. Try Writer’s Nausea, or Writer’s Sense of Inevitable Doom. A block is the red wooden cube I selected to crown my Lego castle when I was nine. A block is an engorged mucus blob in your nasal passages. A block is mundane.

I can’t remember the point of entry. There was a before, and there was an after. In the before, I thought Writer’s Block was the dull sinewy ache I felt after practicing my cursive in second grade. Maybe Writer’s Block is like driving on US Route 684—you don’t remember how you got there, and you sure as hell don’t know how you’re going to exit to the left in the next 500 feet. Before, writing was just something I did. I wrote before I knew what writing was. One day, some day, I found out there were rules. I think it was the sandwich model, which later turned out to be the five paragraph essay. We were introduced to our new galactic overlord, the thesis statement. And then I guess it was over.

Wrapped up in this wet blanket was the idea that I was just doing it wrong. What I might have been doing wrong, I wasn’t entirely sure. My essays and papers and stories were met with good grades even after the birth of the five paragraph military dictatorship. Nevertheless, I was curious as to just what kind of alchemy was going on behind the closed screens of my classmates’ laptops. How many of them wrote an outline? Who knew their character arcs prior to the first draft? What is a character arc? Writing couldn’t just be watching my fingers play freestyle DDR for two to four hours as my paper appeared word by word in Times New Roman.

In order to accommodate longer written works, my writing style shifted in college. My paper ideas leaked all over my notebooks. It was a form of planning, and it was about as organized as my dorm room in the middle of move-in. The first paper forced its way out of me when, after several nights of panic and self-doubt, I threw down a few sentences as gingerly as if I were walking along a precipice. There it was, the thesis. The film Now, Voyager, which purports to reveal a more authentic woman in Charlotte Vale after her makeover, falls instead into regressive consumerist propaganda while reaffirming the aspirations of her male compatriot. The next paragraph was a bit more natural, and then it was like I had broken through a wall. I was writing about the ivory boxes Charlotte carved, and how they were manifestations of her authority and authenticity. I went into a writing trance, strung along by a growing euphoria I couldn’t begin to understand. The paper finished itself.

Writing has, since then, been one part blissful reward and three parts pure, unadulterated agony, each impossible to forsee. I am convinced that the ‘creative’ in creative writing is in fact a euphemism for the lengths I’ll go to make the words perform up to assignment standards. And I may be delusional—and I think you must be if you do this sort of thing for fun—but I’m not ready to give up. I don’t want to think about where I would reroute the buckets of energy I’m throwing at my Writer’s Block. Besides, Writer’s Block, once neglected, becomes lowercase writer’s block. And no one wants a neurosis with an inferiority complex.