When we issued this prompt, I immediately tried to make it clever. How can I do something… different?
I wanted to be literary, not literal.
A noble thought, sure. I do enjoy ambitious writing and pulling off verbal magic tricks. But then I got stuck, as I often do. And then I quit for a few days, as I often do. And then I almost quit entirely, as I often do.
But I am a writer, aren’t I? At least I try to be one. Occasionally. When I’m on my best behavior. When I’m struck by divine inspiration, raw emotion, or oncoming traffic.
The truth is, unlike Prompt legends like Josh Bard and Sarah Razner, I quit four times as many pieces as I ever begin. And the harder truth is that sometimes I get so in my own head that I don’t even bother to start.
The worst part is that I know how stupid and counterproductive that is. I know that, if I want to improve and be great at something, I have to show up and do the work. You don’t just get struck by creative lightning. This is a craft. You have to practice.
It’s not that I’m lazy. I’m always puttering about doing eighty million things.
It’s not that I’m uninspired. My brain is practically dizzy with unexpressed ideas and emotions.
I fixate on word choice. I spiral on editing and re-editing my every sentence before I’ve gotten through a full, coherent thought. I have such sky-high expectations of myself that I’m flying where the oxygen is too thin. I can’t think straight. I’m lightheaded. I’m asphyxiating myself.
It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem. It’s me.
I belabor the process, making it so much harder on myself. I raise the stakes on something I do for fun and personal enrichment. Writing, which I allegedly enjoy. Writing, which makes me feel fulfilled and whole when I bother to put in an honest day’s work. Writing, which helps me get my inside-thoughts back outside where they can play.
No matter what the prompt, assignment, or mood swing, I expect the words to fall from my brain onto the page in both a coherent flow and masterful sentences. I’m searching for perfection in every keystroke. It’s utterly ridiculous.
Let’s take, by comparison, some other things I do for fun: running, cooking, playing sports.
I’ve never quit my morning run halfway and taken the Metro home because I wasn’t on personal record pace. I’ve never bailed on sautéing eggplant because I sliced them a little too thick or too thin. And I’ve lost countless basketball and soccer games through the years—sometimes by embarrassing margins—but it is literally antithetical to my entire personal philosophy to quit.
So, why do I do something so cowardly when I’m writing?
How I judge myself so harshly and almost violently for making mistakes, even though I should be taking risks and making mistakes. As if it’s not all just good practice. As if I’m not just getting my reps. As if anyone cares whether there was a better way of phrasing one specific sentence.
So this time, I’m not giving myself the out. I’m not letting myself off the hook. I’m answering the fucking question, with no further dawdling, hemming, hawing, or bullshittering. This is Final Jeopardy. I already wagered an amount… I might as well try to answer the goddamn question.
Because it is such a gift to exist, to be alive, to leave a footprint or a few pages on this planet we occupy. It is so profoundly improbable that we exist, and yet we do, and somehow I want to capture that in words, which we invented for the sole purpose of expressing ourselves.
I write because life is beautiful. And I write because life is so hideously ugly, too.
I write to process my thoughts and feelings. I write to understand myself and to be understood.
I write because, sometimes, I’m brave. And sometimes I’m patient. And sometimes, I write because I’m just plain out of excuses.