Chasing the Elusive Word

My computer screen stares right back at me
My computer screen stares right back at me

I sit in front of my computer staring resolutely at the Microsoft Word screen. It is 11:45 p.m. and the screen stares blankly back at me. My wife is already in bed, and I think of her warm body and the hint of an even-warmer promise she winked at me before disappearing into our bedroom. No! That is dangerous territory; a minefield-laden area where treacherously seductive thoughts could blow this yet-unwritten story to oblivion.

With Himeros quietened, I return my thoughts to the task at hand. Nothing short of a masterpiece will do—something compelling that detains readers and holds them captive until the last word is read. In a world where everything is vying for everyone’s attention, where attention spans are measured by mouse clicks, and video productions attract more eyeballs than the printed word, only the best literature will do. So, I double my concentration to coax the best from my mind to the now-mocking screen.

It is 1:23 a.m. of the next day. The passing voices from the street outside my house have diminished. Cool, soft breezes waft through my open window into my writing space. They don’t soothe me; nor does the sight of the Castries city lights and harbor. There are words in the sights and sounds of my environment, but not the ones I need. In fact, the others just get in the way. What beautiful irony—words getting in the way of words! Although I appreciate the humor in this seeming contradiction, annoyance and anxiety furrow my brow.

The future slips quietly into the present and fades into the past. It is now 2:27 a.m. and I have managed only a couple of lines. Maybe I should embrace poetry. Maybe the opaque illogic of an idea condensed into a few incantatory lines would free me from the tyranny of the structured word curse; the dreary drudgery of being chained by syntax and suffix would become the soaring euphony of unordered free verse. Hmmm, maybe there is something there… I shut it down. There is something about the long, clean, somewhat exacting nature of prose that has always captivated and challenged me. And there is always the occasional rebuke (sometimes ignored) from Strunk and White to steer me back to the rules when I commit an infraction. That is of no comfort—my word count has not changed although the time has.

I fidget. I slump. I squint. I swear softly at the blinking cursor on the face of the thrice-damned machine. It’s almost 3:30 a.m. and only a dejected, clumsy-looking paragraph inhabits an otherwise pristine page one. Where are the muses when you need them? I’ve suffered for almost four hours in the silence of Mnemosyne and her daughters, and I’m as near to being inspired as the distance between Olympus and the habitation of men. Why won’t the words come? The ones currently in my head are useless as they bear no relevance to the forlorn sentences on my digital page. They have become clutter on the factory floor of my imagination, delaying or stopping completion of the finished product.

Words become clutter on the factory floor of my imagination
Words become clutter on the factory floor of my imagination

4:28 a.m. Cocks continue to crow a countdown to the dawn. The call and response routine from the feathered inhabitants of trees near and far prompts the escape of a half-suppressed sigh from my deflated ego. Didn’t I follow the advice of the experts? Didn’t I pen a plan of this piece before I sat down to write it? Didn’t I articulate the main points in the introduction, body, and conclusion of said plan the execution of which would result in a pain-free composition? So, why am I now trapped in this unproductive world of writer’s block while I anguish over my release?

5:00 a.m. comes quickly. It is accompanied by another sigh, followed by a fatigued yawn. The cocks are in full cry now in eager anticipation of the first flush of the rising sun. Voices have returned to the street. Joggers, brick-makers, market vendors—they’re already out there trying to beat the coming heat. I am too caught up in my wordlessness to pay attention to this daily repetition of life’s servings; too beaten by this barren exercise to appreciate the wordless, living poetry being written right outside my house. I push my chair back, stand up on wobbly legs, and slouch off to bed. Maybe I can get ninety minutes of sleep before I prepare for the daily grind.

Several days later and it’s finally done—I have penned yet another tale. The Elements of Style is at hand while I proofread it a dozen times. I can almost hear Strunk and White gently admonishing me for redundant words strewn throughout its length, and a myriad other infractions of their writing rules. For added measure, I let a disinterested party give it the once-over. Then, I subject it to the rigors of Grammarly. It has begun to read like something mundane before I release it to the world. Here is it. And here is your chance to judge me. Assess me. Label me. Categorize me. Make me better. Make me stronger.


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