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Scratching Scribes' Itch
By Jennifer Edelson
October, 2004, 14:10

id you know the words "writer" and "writhe" fall three spaces apart in Webster's New Universal Dictionary? Three spaces, almost singular bedfellows, yet divided by ink and space, a wasteland of uncertainty. Two conditions collectively stalking the author's mind, initiating a pandemic of insecurity.

It's a prank. A conspiracy conjured up between schemers at Webster's behest, meant to rankle our ribs, prod us to look past the obvious and join others who have entered the outback of alien abductions, and giant alligator obscurity.

Webster knew a secret. Writers are dupes. Suckers for pain and anxiety. He knew that if you write, as in yep, I am a "writer," you will no doubt also "writhe," as in holy cow, I am in "acute discomfort" and "shrinking mentally."

Maybe, "write" and "writhe," spaces apart, really are strategic, cautionary. Or maybe I'm making a metaphor mountain out of molehill absurdity, which is the most likely. Either way, not only is "writhe" a fine term to describe what writers do when they sit in front of their keyboards, desperate to spit out prose and commit it in indelible form outside of their own memories. Not only is it perfect to describe what I do because I desperately want to write, because I am new in town, because nobody knows me. It also gives me a chance to introduce you to my own writer's neurosis.

Look, not only do I have a habit, quite obviously, of making every nothing into a something, to everyone else's dismay, I do it quite frequently. And it's just one of my many obsessive, often irrational and overanxious tendencies. I own an arsenal of "what ifs" and "maybes," a vivid, twenty-four hour tickertape of plot and story running through my head. I have phobias, bite my nails. I've suffered from every form of mental cancer. I know my medical dictionary inside out. And I owe it all to writing. Or maybe not, maybe I write because I am neurotic. Whichever it is, it's really annoying.

Cigarettes and coffee may compete with writing as one of the most gratifying yet loathsome human experiences, but writing is a worse addiction. I mean, how often do you find yourself driving home at the end of the day, dumb struck by some sight, desperate to write down the cathartic aftermath in verse or story? How often do you find yourself out walking your dog, eating dinner, brushing your hair, when suddenly, an idea, like a faulty flashlight, flickers a warning? It's the project. The book or story.

Huge projects

And how often, like all those other huge writing projects you neglected to commit to paper, does it become a novel of epic proportions by week's end? Haunting you. Always the itch, that voice in your head.

And what about the writing process, the ritual, that inflexible schedule of pencils and tea, a lucky coin, a writer's desk in the shed? Me, I only write in a coffee house, or with one eye open in the dark, sleepy and possessed, while I dangle off my bed. I write late at night when I want to sound "edgy," and during the day, from 11 to four, for quality. Each day gives me about five good hours of material, and afterwards, like an empty chocolate wrapper, deep dissatisfaction that it's at an end. The utter conviction between breaks, sentences, words, that I'll never write again. It's an emptiness that drives all writers crazy.

Oh, how many wasted hours we writers spend on a therapist's couch, sick with grief after a lifetime of searching. How many dollars spent trying to dispute our inner philosopher's sense of inadequacy? Face it, we’re a masochistic bunch. Still, it's hard to deny that the neurosis is like an old friend. And it gives us fodder for our stories.

So on those days when my delete key sticks and my eye won't stop twitching, when I simultaneously misplace my car keys and manuscript in the fridge, I try really hard to cast the self-doubt and self-sabotage aside. My friends at Neurotics Anonymous can complain that I exaggerate all they want, but I embrace my psychosis. I'm a writer damn it. And until I actually get tired of hallucinating, or bored, whichever comes first, I'm gonna keep on writing.

Care to join me?

Jennifer Edelson is a Minnesota attorney and legal writing professor. Her writing has appeared on all the finest refrigerators in the Twin Cities.

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