I thought by this point in my life I’d know how to write. I thought it would come easy by now, that I’d know the ropes and the tricks of the trade.
“A man’s got to know his limitations,” Dirty Harry once said. I do know those. I have plenty.
I know that I can’t count on my muse (for want of a better word) showing up at the appointed time. Sometimes she’s there, sometimes not. When you’re on deadline, though, it doesn’t really matter. When you’re on deadline, you can’t afford to have writer’s block. You have to crank out the words anyway. The deadline is often your friend. It forces you to write, no matter what. Without the deadline I might not ever write.
You can optimize the chances for the arrival of your muse (sleep, a good breakfast, coffee, etc.) but you can’t make her show. Sometimes the material you’re working with doesn’t inspire the words to flow, but even when it does that doesn’t mean they will.
I know that it isn’t over until it’s over. You can be writing an article that wouldn’t fly in a junior high school essay contest, you can be wondering why you ever thought you could be a writer, you can be wondering what it is, exactly, that you’re trying to say, but if you keep chipping away at it, fixing small things, finding a better word here or there, or work on the punctuation, the article can turn around at the very last second and become something you’re proud of.
I’m often proudest of articles that to the average reader couldn’t possibly seem special in any way. That’s because as the writer, I know what went into it and what the odds were of it coming off at all. You’ve made lemonade, maybe not even very good lemonade, out of lemons.
I also know that most readers can’t tell the difference between my good and bad stuff. I guess that’s kind of cynical, but it’s true. It can also be a relief of sorts knowing that no one, or few, will notice when you’re not on your game. It takes the pressure off the writing, allows you to relax and then, presto — what do you know? — you’re writing well.