“Your assignment for next week is to write a one- to two-page, double-spaced essay,” said the teacher, “about anything you’d like.”
One to two pages, I thought. About anything I’d like, I thought. Easy! Child’s play! I write all the time—I’ll just pick a topic I can put in my blog! I thought. And there the thoughts ended.
I lead a rich life, full of story fodder. “There’s a book in that,” my mother is constantly telling me, whether I’m talking about my dogs or the horses I regularly ride; travel to exotic islands (Santo Antão, Cabo Verde; Necker, British Virgin Islands; Folegandros, Greece; Orcas, USA); or the breast cancer I’ve been dealing with for 12 ½ years now.
Of course there are stories here. For the past several years, I’ve written these stories out in blogs: in The Dilettante Traveler for all those exotic locations (dogs and horses occasionally included); or in I Thought I Was Done With This for the still-ongoing, often tedious and boring, and yes, occasionally petrifying experiences of living with cancer.
The problem for me is that I write fluidly and fluently for my own pleasure, to tell my own story on my own terms in my own time; and that the moment someone issues a command, or just a request, or even the merest hint of a suggestion that I write something specific for them, the taps shut off and the trough full of rich, life-sustaining inspiration goes instantly, echoingly, frustratingly dry.
Ugh, I thought, five days after class when I had yet to come up with a topic I wanted to write about. I’m taking this class so I can learn to be usefully critical of other people’s writing, not get bogged down in my own, I thought.
Good thing I chose Editing and not The Art of the Novel.