Rebecca Worthington sighed in frustration, tapping her quill against her scroll. Upon the page, multiple sentences were crossed out in a line of ink.
Why I write: I want to be the best writer ever Why I write: words call to me like flowing Why I write: why why why?! WHY
Rebecca stared down at the words in dismay. It was a start, but none of it was good enough for her; it all fell short of what she was aiming for with the latest assignment. She took a breath, looking around the classroom, feeling somewhat encouraged at the similar looks of frustration on her classmates’ faces. Even Romero Reyes, on pace to be valedictorian for the past two years, was staring at the page on his desk with a discouraged look.
“Miss Worthington,” said a voice from above her, making Rebecca jump in her seat.
She turned and looked up at her instructor. Professor Scribe was tall, wearing a brown tweed jacket over a gray waistcoat, and both his beard and hair were gray but well-groomed. He also had gray eyebrows, which made his imposing gaze all the more striking from beneath his glasses.
Only twenty new students were accepted each fall, evaluated on both their writing technique and future potential mastery of the craft of writing. Rebecca had trained herself for years in the back of her parents’ blacksmith shop, using borrowed quills from fellow shopkeepers and used inkwells and scrolls she scrounged from the endpapers of used books or trash piles. With her meager supplies, she had nonetheless produced enough writing samples to send to the entrance committee, whom were impressed enough to send her an acceptance letter.
She had earned her way into Feather Quill, rather than bought her way like some of the richer students. Yet, faced with the dreaded writer’s block, she felt the first twinge of fear that she might be expelled; or worse, that she might not be a good writer after all.
“Ah, Professor,” she said, flushing as Professor Scribe looked down at her, his bushy white eyebrows raised.
After all, Scribe had written over sixty books in his lifetime, and if she hoped to achieve even a fraction of his mastery of writing, she had to be willing to accept criticism and learn from her mistakes. Not writing was just as much a gaffe as messing up on grammar or punctuation, and she forced herself to not feel ashamed for her ill-timed writer’s block.
“I… I’m continuing the assignment, Professor,” she continued, turning to look at her work, “but, well, I’m… stuck.”
“Hmmm, let’s see,” said the professor, bending to look at her scroll.
She looked up and watched him nod.
“It’s normal for everyone, Miss Worthington, even myself. I assure you, such a scourge cannot be fully eradicated from any creative life. Musicians and seamstresses would no doubt agree, as would others. Even the master craftsman will run into setbacks. The point of this exercise was to discover your hidden motivations on why you write, for not all writers are the same. The more acquainted you are with your hidden aims, the less setbacks you will run into. There are no wrong answers, Miss Worthington.”
Rebecca swallowed, nodding.
“If that is so, Professor,” she asked, “then why do I feel like there is a wrong answer? Why do none of my words feel right?”
“That is part of what you are meant to discover, as a student here,” he said sagely. “None of us begin as masters of a craft, Miss Worthington. I myself am still learning about writing, after all these years. There are limitations and challenges to any written language, no matter what that language is.”
He looked at Rebecca, who still frowned, obviously discouraged. Professor Scribe sighed; that would not do. As head professor of Feather Quill School, he had a reputation to uphold, and he could not let a single one of his students down. He especially felt like he had a duty to Rebecca Worthington, who was one of the few students not from a higher class background. Worthington was present because she truly loved writing, and Scribe felt he could not let her continue to experience writer’s block, or feel she was unworthy to be a writer.
Scribe knew he tended towards the erudite, academic side of writing, unable to truly adopt the airs of an everyman despite his best efforts. Personally, he detested that side of the field; it did the civilian no favors to believe that writing was beyond their purview, an exercise for only the well-learned and financially well-off. The realm of stories and prose belonged to everyone, of that Donovan Scribe believed in full. That also included the dejected student sitting before him.
“There are no wrong words, Miss Worthington,” he said, and smiled as Rebecca looked up at him with curiosity.
“May I tell you a secret?” he asked, amused as Rebecca’s eyes widened.
“Well, I mean, yes, Professor,” she said, nodding. “If you have any advice, I would appreciate hearing it.”
“Well,” he said, “it is not so much advice, as a secret that needs telling. This goes for the rest of you as well, class. Heed my words, now, for this is difficult to understand.”
Rebecca stared as Professor Scribe’s words took on an ominous tone, as if he were about to cast a magical spell. She felt the other students stir, but could not look at them, for she was looking up at the professor, whose face was calm like a meadow before a storm.
“There are no wrong words,” he said, “for we are already within a story, and therefore whatever you write cannot lead you astray, as long as it feels true. We are characters in a story, and we are already being read. At this very moment, countless readers are watching us, as words on a page somewhere else. In some unfathomable realm, a multitude of people whose lives we cannot know are reading us all. Knowing this secret, how can anything you write be incorrect, when you are the story itself?”
How could such a thing be possible? thought Rebecca, growing cold with fear and curiosity.
The professor’s words echoed in her mind like a clarion bell, and she felt afraid but also exhilarated, as if she had been told something she absolutely should never have known. At the thought, she felt an indescribable presence, deep within her mind, as if someone, or something, was watching her, was watching all of them. The feeling of being watched grew, until she felt a pull to look beyond herself, to look directly at whoever was watching—no, reading them.
Rebecca began to turn her head, but leapt in her seat, startled, as Professor Scribe slammed his hands down on the front of her desk.
“No!” he said in a snarl.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the other students jolt in their seats as well.
“Don’t turn your head,” he said, leaning down and fixing her with an utterly serious look.
“Do you hear me, Miss Worthington?” he continued. “Do not turn and look at them.”
Rebecca shivered from the intense gleam in Scribe’s brown eyes. Whatever this was about, he had meant every word he just said.
“Who, Professor?” she asked timidly. “Turn and look at whom?”
“The readers, Miss Worthington,” he said in a whisper. “The readers of this tale. Whatever you do, don’t turn and look at them. That is a boundary we cannot cross, from one world to another. Multiple universes are meant to be separate. You may not understand this now, but as a full-fledged writer, you will, with time.”
“I don’t understand,” said Rebecca, her head spinning from the professor’s words.
Professor Scribe straightened, sighing in apparent exhaustion, and crossed his arms, turning to look at the rest of the class.
“Yes, Mister Roth,” he said, waving at a spectacled boy sitting near the front with messy dark hair.
“Ah, Professor, I was just going to ask what you meant by the ‘readers’ comment,” said Pat Roth, adjusting his glasses nervously. “What did you mean by ‘readers of this tale?'”
“Exactly what it sounds like, Mister Roth,” said the professor, walking back towards the chalkboard, adjusting his tweed jacket over his waistcoat.
He turned with a somewhat dramatic flair, his tweed jacket fluttering about him like so much scholarly feathers.
“This world of ours, these lives we lead, are a tale of their own,” he said, “and we, dear class, are being read this very moment. What’s the first thing I said to all of you during orientation? Tell it back to me.”
Professor Scribe smiled.
“Yes, precisely,” he said. “Yet, hearken to the full quote. ‘All the world’s a page, and we are but words inscribed therein.’ This statement is not mere hyperbole, class. I am telling you this secret, because I believe you are ready to hear it, and because you must hear it, in order to progress with your studies. I tell you true, we are all characters in a grand story, a story without end. If this causes you to feel fear, understand that is a natural reaction.”
At this point, he turned and looked directly at Rebecca, who swallowed, straightening in her chair as she gathered her nerves. Seemingly satisfied with her reaction, Professor Scribe looked at the rest of the students.
“If you wish to truly master the art of words, you must go deeper,” he continued, “beyond fear, beyond rage, and towards the truth in your heart. Only truth will be remembered in a story, class. Only truth will resonate beyond the page, beyond the boundaries of even this world, and into the minds and hearts of your readers. Your audience will always be with you, class. You cannot outrun them. Indeed, you would not even exist without them.”
“I still don’t understand, Professor,” said Tilda Rein, raising her hand, lowering it as the Professor gestured at her to continue. “Do you mean, we are all in a story right now? A story being read by an audience? It is difficult to believe.”
“It’s not about belief, Miss Rein,” he said. “It’s about truth. Trust me, our current audience is surely just as surprised as all of you. What they must understand, in turn, is that they are also part of their own story. A story inscribed in matter instead of words, a story told in a lifetime instead of a scene. Yet, this is a truth that cannot be known in full, only experienced. Once one realizes even a portion of this, they are changed, and this shift in perspective is what we are seeking to cause, as writers. Not necessarily to change minds, but to expand them.”
The class sat still and quiet, unsure of what to say. Professor’s Scribe’s words resonated within their young minds, strange and surreal, yet ringing with truth, and no one knew what to do in that moment. Professor Scribe took the time to sit at his desk with a sigh, but his smile did not leave his face. He waved a hand at the class.
“Enough deep talk, then,” he said. “Let’s start with one crumb at a time. In the meanwhile, you are writers, are you not? Future authors of extraordinary tales?”
“Yes, Sir!” said the class, each student wearing various looks of determination.
“Then pick up your quills and write,” said Professor Scribe. “Tell me why you write, and make it true.”
Each student rushed to do so, picking up their quills and placing pen to page. Rebecca dipped her feathered quill into the ink well, considered her next words, then began to write, smiling:
Why I write: because I wish to.