How would you . . . describe yourself as a writer?
– Dr. Steven Alvarez
I am a writer with purpose. When I am writing for a class, writing a backstory for a character in a roleplay, writing an argument about why I hold an opinion, etc., I can put pencil to paper or finger to keyboard and not stop until it’s done. But when I try to write anything creatively simply for my own amusement or out of a desire to create a story, it fizzles out. It seems that I need to be given a reason to write, much as I’d like to write on my own terms.
The sense of purpose sounds rhetorical. The rhetorical situation might then apply to the way you strategize how to author texts. With a reason to write though, that could possibly lead to writer’s block. Writing without purpose, that might be the thing for you to experiment with.
– Dr. Steven Alvarez
I am using this response as a reason to write, in order to practice writing without a reason. Yes, I know that completely defeats the purpose. It’s all I have to work with at this point.
Already, I’m having difficulty in deciding what to write, so instead of stewing in my brain, I’m going to write out all the ways in which I’m cringing away from this entire idea. I wanted a topic to focus on, and I thought of using the response I wrote for the prompt in class today. I enjoyed it; I’ve been taking a Rhetoric of Noir class, and when I was assigned a photograph of a kid looking through a hole in a burlap sack, my brain began to work in black and white. The setting was the 1930s, and the kid had been kidnapped by gangsters and was slowly picking apart the burlap she was enclosed in so she could make good her escape. I quite liked my idea to have her focus on being patient, emphasizing her sense of control even in this situation where many would assume she lacked it entirely.
But that was today, while I was in class. When I had a purpose. So when I sat down a few minutes ago to recreate the scene, I couldn’t do it. There was no point; despite not having enough time during class to actually finish putting the scene on paper, it was done. So now I’m fraying at the edges (get it? because burlap?), torn between writing it for the sake of writing it, writing it because I’ve done this great big intro for it, or giving up because there’s no point, and no one cares to read it. Of course, in my rational mind, I think at least someone might be interested—but my self esteem remains adamantly in the contrary camp. So I’m stuck.
Fine. I’m going to rewrite the darn thing. I’m giving myself purpose this time, even if it’s just because I already wrote the big intro and it feels cruel to leave it where it is.
[You're not going to write it as good as it was.
You shouldn't have tossed the paper.
There's no point in writing something subpar.]
Shut up. We're doing this.
[Just walk back to Patterson and dig it out of the trash.]
That wouldn't be writing something new. I wrote the last one
when I had a prompt; this one has to be without it,
or else it isn't writing for myself.
[You're a stubborn ox.]
Thanks. And now I'm going to be using these asides
throughout the entire thing——breaking all sense of flow
and immersion——simply for the sake of berating myself, aren't I?
[You got it, buster.]
I am not quick. I am not fidgety. I am not impatient. The strands of burlap come gradually apart, my fingers shifting along the fraying edges as I breathe steadily against the acrid, metallic odors. The man who is not quiet laughs boisterously, and I freeze—but he lays down a card, and I go back to work. The man who is not tall
[You're stealing that from "Welcome to Night Vale."]
I'm not stealing it. He's not The Man Who Is Not Tall;
he's just a man who is not tall.
And I'm phrasing the entire paragraph in that kind of structure,
so it fits. Shove off.
moves his lips around a frown. The rumbling of the machine steals his words. The man who is not quiet turns his head; his words are scowling. “Shaddap. We ain’t gettin’ paid for that business.” He languidly shoves the head of the man who is not tall. “We gettin’ paid to sit an’ play cards. You wan’ a better deal? Shove off.” Another line of burlap unstitched. I am not enlivened; my movements must be small.
[Alright, you've gotten basically as far as you got in class.
You made a few changes, kept some things the same.
Where are you going now, huh? What's your idea?]
Well, it needs conflict, right? Currently, it's just a bit of
tenseness. Tenseness. Is that a word? Regardless,
it needs something bigger to happen,
so that's what I'm going to make.
[When are you gonna stop?]
I'll stop when I'm darned good and ready.
You know, having your comments written out
makes it much easier to be righteously indignant in response,
which is apparently exactly the fuel I need. Go you, brain.
[(Brain fumes silently.)]
Interruption in the work. The machine stops. My fingers hesitate at the edge of the hole I have created. Do I dare pull it apart? Do I risk a stitch popping? I wish to see, to stretch the seams and look back towards the machine, to know what it is and why it grates so loudly in the room. I wish to know who else is here.
“‘Ey, ye get all them tires aired?” a voice asks from behind me, rough like slag and not half as pretty. The words arch around from the side, the surface directly at my back blocking them slightly. If I am against a wall, then there is an archway to my right.
“You think I’d be turning off the air if I hadn’t?…sir,” comes the reply. Then a smack.
“You ‘member yer place, boy.” The word is a curse in his mouth.
Footsteps from behind. The man who is not tall looks up from his cards. “All finished, then,” he says. “Good. Let’s get her out.”
No. No, no, think. They haven’t looked my way. They don’t know about the hole. I am not panicking. I am not impatient. I pull the threads together, cutting off my vision. I roll the sack forward, pinning the hole beneath me. Gently, gently. The voices blur with each other, and the sharp smell of metal stings my nose again as one set of footsteps approaches.
A soft click. The popping of threads. The pocket knife slices through the bag, leaving me staring into coal black eyes, ringed red and set in a face pocked by burns.
“Well, little missy. It’s time for you to meet the boss.”