Sunday, November 20, 2011

Something to Be Thankful For

I was sent an e-mail from Amy Tenderich of the well-respected Diabetes Mine blog asking for contributions for this Thanksgiving’s edition of Grand Rounds. I sat with this a while and really struggled to find a topic. “It would be nice to creative writing,” I thought.

So I sat and stared at the computer.

Nothing.

I sat some more.

Still nothing.

It was complete and utter writers’ block. Then I remembered a similar time many, many years ago:

"... but I don’t know what to write.”

“What is it you’re trying to say?”

“That I want to get into medical school. That I like biomedical engineering. That I like people and kids and migrating monarch butterflies and music and art and all kinds of stuff! How the heck am I supposed to write something that makes sense of all this? How does one write something that will get you into medical school, for goodness sakes! This stinks!”

“Just write. It’ll come together,” she said as she returned to the afternoon’s dishes.

After I calmed down, I took out a fresh piece of paper and wrote. I wrote mountains of disjointed sentences without a central core. A stared at the page, dissatisfied. I wrote some more. Somewhere in the back of my might hid a thought, an overarching theme that failed to materialize despite my best attempts. I kept writing and writing as if somehow, some way, I’d force it out of me. Finally, out of frustration, I brought my work back to her.

“Here’s what I’ve got so far.”

“Wonderful!”

She sat and read what I had written. Occasional smiles would appear from her lips, then a look of confusion. I knew it wasn’t great since science and math were my thing at the time, not writing. She read the entire mess, start to finish, then stared up from the page, looked upward and contemplated her next move. Her radiant eyes turned toward me and pierced my stubborn fa├žade. “You’ve got good stuff here, but I don’t get how it makes you feel. It’s too disjointed. Don’t you mean to say…?”

And we were off. I watched a master at work. She had a remarkable knack for diction and the written word. She reveled at the chance to add a verb, an adjective, a noun that changed the ordinary into the extraordinary. She’d stop and ask, “So then what?” and I’d explain. Red arrows would link concepts and ideas; a roadmap to clarity formed before my eyes. “You need to expand on this,” she’d say. Then I would return to my thoughts, frustrated at how hard this was to complete. Would it ever make any sense? But as I sat and thought some more I realized that she was right, not so much about the topic, but about the process.

Think. Write.

Don’t think. Write.

Then write some more. Be willing to toss aside the perfect stand-alone nuggets of writing that make things too verbose and distract from your message. Keep those that clarify and sharpen it. Then process the thoughts and re-work them until the final composition develops to something larger than what you had anticipated.

Like an acceptance letter to medical school.
And before you know it, you’re not just a doctor, you’re a writer, too.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mom. (And sorry about all my typos.)

-Wes

1 comment:

Norman Briffa said...

Lovely post. Made me remember my mum who sadly passed away 18 months ago.
Having written all that, did you think of a topic to write about?