Have you ever thought about how fast you speak? Despite English being a fairly slowly spoken language (If you don’t think so, have a listen to someone speaking Spanish in a lively conversation), we, most of us, get through about two hundred words per minute on the average. Unless you’re a hermit or very anti-social, that means you chew up literally thousands upon thousands of words every day in ordinary conversation.
Why is it then so hard for us writers to get a miserable 500 words on paper in a typical day sitting before the computer or scribbling on a pad? I’ve just written slightly more than 100 words (up to here) for this posting in less than ten minutes (in between mouthfuls of a delicious terrine of chicken pate and pistachio paste washed down with a cappuccino). Yet earlier today it took me nearly three hours to produce a barely 500 word extension to a chapter in my novella.
At the beginning of the year I set myself a goal to complete (perhaps I should say extend) this work by approximately 13,000 words by the end of March. After a vigorous editing (and unsentimental pruning), I found I would actually need another 16,000 words. Well, here I am, only a week short of my deadline and nowhere near completion.
Of course I can tick off a string of reasons/excuses/craven attempts at explanation —serious illness involving hospitalisation; unexpected and complicated matters in the daily business of surviving in the madhouse that is contemporary living; sheer procrastination which comes as second nature — but do any of these really point to the core of the problem?
From much that I’ve read in the peregrinations on their work by other poets, novelists, dramatists, as well as the discussions I’ve had with my own writerly associates, it’s clear this difficulty in getting words on paper is a common curse. My question persists. When we can blather on almost ad infinitum, if not ad nauseum, why is it so hard to scratch down a mere 500 of the little blighters on a page? I’m seventy percent of the way to 500 words in this posting and it’s been a doddle. But wait until tomorrow when I try to get another half ton loaded into the novella. It will seem like Sisyphus climbing up that everlasting hill. Two steps forward and roll back down the mount.
One hundred to go! Is this how we should write? Churning it out like some product on a conveyor belt? What happened to creativity? Spontaneity? Serendipity? Is Woody right, that it’s only 10% inspiration and the rest is perspiration? Where’s the Romance? What happened to the Muse who just alights on my shoulder with fully formed, matchless phrases and couplets only needing to be set down on the page, words which just flow from the mind, down the arm and through the fingers to repose in all their beauty and for all time’s ages in the little books which readers will always cherish?
Oh, wotalotarot! Maybe this poem will suit you better?
Someday I will stop,
And the words will stop / still.
Only one word will be / still.
So many words I gather to me.
I am desperate / for words;
I go on / only by words.
The words, the words!
They gnaw at my body,
They tear at my reason.
They strip me / bare / me
Until only the core is left.
The word was spoken,
It only sounded like a beginning.
The one word of truth
Is the word of death.
In the basis of my being
Was my undoing, my end,
All settled / before it began.
Someday I will stop
And the words will stop / still.
The sentence will be finished.
Ruari Jack Hughes