I never know what I’ll write until the typing starts. Often a vague topic floats through my head, a hazy arrow pointing the way, just a theme, but with no clear idea where I’m going. Other times, I form a strong opening sentence, that’s all, just a sentence—no subject, no area of focus. This always happens away from my computer—lying in bed or out for run—I make mental note, excited to write, happy for a launching pad. My brain is littered with scraps of these sentences. Immediately lost, I strain my mind trying to resurrect them. On occasion, I do, a writer’s prompt with a guaranteed catchy start.
What I don’t do is plan. I don’t outline, make notes, block out paragraphs. I don’t pick topics and develop arguments. I just write. I wind up where I will.
Today I received an email. Hey Jeff, Anna is out this week, we’re adjusting the column schedule. Yours is now due next week. At my work, a public library, we write columns for the local papers. It’s great free advertising, we keep the library front and center in people’s thoughts. We provide free content for the papers, no need to pay a reporter or purchase something from Associated Press. Symbiotic. Win, win.
My assignment is to describe my job. I wrote a column this week too, promoting a streaming media program offered by the library. Different topic, different paper. I’m sure no one views this as a big deal “Jeff loves to write, he won’t mind.” It’s true, I love to write. But I find it tricky to write on a specific topic, often dry. Without the ability to roam, I choke.
In the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch and Sundance try to get jobs as security guards. The hiring boss wants to know if Sundance, a gunslinger, can shoot. He tosses a chunk of wood twenty feet away. “Hit that.” Sundance spins his gun and holsters it, preparing for a quick draw. “No, no, not that, I just want to know if you can shoot.” Sundance squares his stance, carefully aims and fires. He misses the wood by eighteen inches. The boss spits tobacco on the ground, turns and starts walking away.
Sundance says “Can I move?” The boss turns around, “Huh?” Sundance draws his gun and crouches in a smooth motion, he fires twice. The first shot kicks the wood into the air, the second shot splits it in half. “I’m better when I move.” Watch it HERE.
Like Sundance, I struggle with constraints. When told what to write, sans sarcasm and irreverence, I come off flat. Coworkers talking (in my mind): “Hey did you read what Jeff wrote today for the paper?”
“Yeah, I thought he was supposed to be a writer.”
Because it’s my job, because I love the library, because it affects my image as a writer, I’ll give it my best. I’ll shoot for playful and upbeat, weave in personal stories and try to create an engaging article people enjoy. But in truth, I’d much rather spend a couple of hours writing here without direction for you.