Once in a while I get a freelance writing gig. Never mind where or for whom, that’s not important. I get to write something!
The bulk of my writing career has been work-for-hire, and I got over the desire for bylines before some of you were born. I love to write but hate to sell, and that makes me a frustrated writer. Thank the gods of the copybook headings, somebody’s got to write the copybooks. Doing that paid my mortgage for a lot of years. But most of that isn’t really writing, it’s just typing. Forget art, hang your ego up with your coat and concentrate on the paycheck.
At my advanced age and depleted station, a gig that involves actual writing is a rare and wonderful thing. Wonderful and terrifying. Suddenly I have to perform! I can read and background all I want but sooner or later I have to face the blank screen. And all too often it remains blank as I enjoy my obligatory existential crisis. I’m too old for this shit, I can’t do it anymore. Hell, I never could do it. Training manuals and ad copy, that’s all I was ever good for. What can I possibly say that hasn’t been stomped into the dust by a thousand other writers that people actually want to read? Gods, what a poseur I am! A real columnist would have to be crazy to let me guest on his space! I’ve got a thousand thousand facts to sift through and not a clue about the first word of the first paragraph. But I sure do have a deadline, boy.
I try to apply the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair and get it started. There’s nothing there. The dishes need to be washed. LB’s droppings need to be shoveled up, and it’s possible the chickens have filled their waterer with straw again. Did I put my tools away? It might rain, I should go check. Night falls, and I’m just wasting battery juice. This is hopeless. I’m doomed. What was I thinking? All I had to do was say no.
I go to bed. It’s not enough that I’m gonna die a failure, that’s already arranged. But now everybody’s going to know what a failure I am. All they’ll remember about Joel is he could take a job but he couldn’t do it. He left a real writer swinging in the sun. Shovel him in and forget him.
Then comes the wonderful moment. It’s pitch-black outside, I have no clue what time it is and couldn’t care less. I’m wide awake. Of course! It’s so obvious! The place to begin is at the beginning, and the beginning is…
It’s all there. I’ve got my leg on and I’m down the ladder. F*ck sleep, where’s my keyboard? The sun rises on a thousand words, most of which won’t ever see print because it’s way too much. I know it even while I write it. I’m a thousand words in and haven’t even gotten to the topic I agreed to write about. I don’t care. It’ll get sorted out in the edit, cutting it will be like disemboweling my own children and I know that. I’ve been here before. The editing is the next hard part and I’ll endure it when it comes, but for now I get to write.