essay

The Writer’s Itch

I’d like to believe that I am a writer. You know, one who writes. Though I am not sure if I am. Who can really say? Are you a writer because you say you are? Are writers just so because other have labelled them as such? Is there a body of government or world power that makes that decision? Can someone point to another person and with a definitive finger of authority say “That man is a writer!” or “That woman, she writes!” It’s hard to tell. The signs are unclear. It’s not as if there is some physical manifestation of the talent in people, some type of genetic marker that pegs one person from another as a writer.

You can imagine the situation. Here is a pregnant woman. She is about to have a child. Very about, minutes away. Second maybe. By her side is the nervous husband, the father in dread panic. What do I do? Where do I stand? Millions of questions swirl around in his mind. He is unsure, impotent in the moment of the woman’s labor. The wife, the soon-to-be mother, has it easier. She must push. Push. Push. Push. But only when the doctor and nurses say. Only then. But she must push, push, push then. Wait. Did I say she had it easier? No, I meant harder. But let’s fast forward some. This scene might get messy soon.

The baby arrives. He just does. We’ll skip the medical and jump to the actual. There is a baby now. The doctor uses some advance scanning technique; from his hand some gentle beams of light coax the child. It is a boy. He is healthy. He is well. Oh, but wait. Checking his DNA here reveals that something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong. I’m sorry folks. I wish we could have seen this sooner. I hate to tell you but… he will be a writer. The child’s fate has been sealed. The mother screams. The father faints. Seriously. Or he does in my mind’s theater anyway. I like to shake things up some.

That is what I have in mind for the Writer’s Mark. It is some physical thing.  Some Mark of Cain like thing. A Mark that shows to others that this person is a writer. There will be little doubt as to what a person does. Look! See? He is marked. That person, ladies and gentlemen, is a writer. After the person passes a group on the street, the group may whisper among themselves. Once out of ear shot of the soon to be source of gossip, they will speak among themselves. Did you know he writes fiction? Fiction! Some sicko there. He makes things up! Who does that? No one in a right mind, that is sure.

It’s not like that. At least, I think it’s not like that. It probably is to others. I don’t know. But to me, it’s more like an itch, the need to write. It’s not a genetic thing but an acquired one. It’s something that you catch over time. An infection that rears its head and demands that you pay attention to it.  As I said, an itch. It’s kinda a good inch though — is there such a thing as a good itch? It’s like a bug crawling on your skin, a barely detectable unbalance on your dermis. Except in your head. A bug crawling on your brain skin… place. Thing. Yeah, that metaphor ran away with me. We got married. It was very sweet. The divorce was very messy though. We still talk sometimes.

Back to the point. An itch. A need to record thoughts, ideas and words. And then more words. Then more words. Together all the words form ideas, a framework for knowledge to grow. The fruit of the growth is given out. It’s a kind of sharing. A good sharing. A sharing that says “Look here, other person. This is a thing I find neat. You might also. Please read?” The sharing is very talkative. I will have to reprimand it later. But the sharing is right. It is the joining of minds using the medium of language.  It is communication.

You do know the thing about itching right? You do. You really do. But I will tell you anyway. You have to scratch them. Have to eliminate that slight uneasiness. That… discomfort. You have to rub or take a nail to it. Scratch. Scratch. Then you feel better. For now. But it will come back. You have to keep it under constant monitoring. Set some guards near it, maybe make an occasional patrol. Is that area itching now? How about this area? No? Good, moving on. It’s a constant watching thing.

The writing reminds me of exercising. Both use muscles. They do. Although, there is predominantly more movement in one than the other. I will leave you guess which one. While you are thinking, I will just tell you. Did you guess: ” exercising”? Good. In both though you must continue to push yourself, to fight against the pain and laziness that wraps up your mind and body. You must fight against yourself. It is a matter of conquering, in small doses, the battle of wants and needs. You want to not do a thing. Yet, you need to do it anyway. For your health. Because it itches when you ignore it.

I have several family members who exercise pretty often. They go off to the gym and leave me to myself. Some time later they come back and begin to talk. You’ll never guess who we saw! They say. We really worked hard. Some number of repetitions or laps will be mentioned. That was more than last time. Good, huh? I nod to such things. I have no idea if that number if good or not. I’m not into exercising. I’m into writing. They know this too but tell me their tales anyway.

They regal me with their talents at lifting metal bars or moving their arms in a certain way. Such an accomplishment! They feel I should know this. Like I said, I nod. Uh huh. Sounds great. Gold star super good. They know that I try, but I don’t speak their language. They, in turn, don’t speak mine either. So, most of the time I don’t bother speaking of my tales.

I could speak about catching comma splices, on how they wriggle in my hand. I could talk about tripping up on infinitives. I sometimes break them up, leave them out in the cold. My war with ellipses… they feel so good. A secret pleasure, to be sure. The ultimate in word counts. The granddaddy of all writer fantasies: a very large — huge — number of words per day. Best words. I hunt that elusive beast daily. But I don’t speak about it.

Their drive to exercise, their drive to push themselves mentally, to go to the next level, it’s a thing they do. Sometimes, I’ll ask they why. Why not? We like it. And even if we didn’t — and sometimes we don’t — we have to keep doing it, you know? We just… have to. In this, I understand. We share this same thing. An itch.

Theirs is a justified addiction, a public need. They might arrange it in some different words, dress it up in different clothes. We want to stay fit. In order to do that, we must move certain muscles in certain ways. We both do this. All of us. For them, it is in going to a special place of worship several times a week. They take their vestments. They carefully arrangement the elements. They enact the ritual. All is good. The itch is gone. But writer’s don’t have that.

It is a very lonely thing to write. You must conjure a world into being with your words, with your thoughts. You must bring your friends to your mind, your imaginary friends. What were you up to today? You ask. They might answer. They may not. Sometimes you have to wangle them, tie them down and torture them to tell you. What happened next!? Tell me and I might let you go. They will tell you their tale and the writer will try out some ways to express it, to tell everyone else what these people told him or her. This is done alone. And most often in secret.

It’s hard to tell who a writer is, who might be sitting alone right now, as I type this, without anyone else around. Maybe there are people though. Maybe it is a crowded place. But the writer is alone. Alone with their thoughts and in their craft. Alone with the world of The Imagined, hanging out with the Might-Be Good Ideas and the Probably Bad Ideas. It can be very crowded in the writer’s mind. Lots of voices and demands. They must shuffle around in the party and find the ones worth listening to and those to ignore.

I think I just found a way to mark a writer from other people, from normal people. Writers will be the ones making up the worlds, who are using their hands, fingers, metacarpals, carpels and digits to produce content. They that induce the potential bubbles of possibilities that lurk around the places. Those ideas that are just waiting to be taken, formed and released as stories. Writers collect such things, molding them into ordinary and the bizarre. Taking the Maybes and making them Existing Things. But to do that, they need skills, they need to feed the beast that does the digestion of the free-floating ideas.

To do this, you must scratch. The itch is just the beast, this bug, that is crawling on the skin. You must deal with it or it will deal with you. You must occasionally do what needs to be done. You must write. You must take the fingers and press the keys. You must take the pen and write the words. You must feed this creature in regular intervals. You must, put another way, exercise it. The mind craves the experience, it must be given what it wants. To tie down the imaginary, practice must happen.

So, I can understand the need to go to the same place, to do the same things. They call it exercise. They keep their muscles toned, their bodies in shape. Repetitions and laps. The same actions over and over. I do the same thing. I put the words down. Then add more words. I keep adding them until I hope I have what I need when I need it. I hope for the end of the work and the number of words that I have asked for from the friends, that I have stolen from around me. I keep pushing and pushing. The weight of the load is no lighter until it is done and the deed is over, the action completed.

You can tell who the writers are. They are haunted by the deadlines and the worry. Will I make the word count? Will I make the daily count, the monthly count or the yearly count? Looking at their works, they ask: Can I add just a little bit more? Maybe at the end. Just sneak in some rambling bits that do not really connect but will push up the word count. I could probably do that. Then sometimes they do. They add and revise. They check the grammar when they need to and ignore it when it doesn’t really matter.

There must be a point where a writer is just a writer. Some mastery of the craft is needed, sure. I won’t argue that. But the writer is someone who writes, in little and in large amounts. The larger amounts marks someone driven by something, some need. Some itch. The word counts are the same and they strive to fill in what they need. The writer just knows that they are a writer. After all, why bother putting down words, in trying to scratch an itch unless the need is there? Huh.