On (not) writing

There are so many things a writer can do with her days. There’s the paper and the park. There’s breakfast and juice to squeeze. There’s no more paper towels warranting a grocery run. There’s the aunt she forgot to call and the email that has been, for days, lingering. There’s budgeting. There’s museums. There’s friends and cafes and people going by and, well, there’s a whole damn city, the kind that is always just waiting for you. So in her youthful inexperience, she cannot write. She does not write because there’s so much to write and nowhere to begin.

Sometimes the world spins so quickly beneath my feet that it feels foolish to attempt to grasp it. Doesn’t bode well for a journalist. Writing on Turkey for this project feels a great task, an explanation of a country and its history. Of course, it is not all of that, it doesn’t need to be. Instead, it might serve as just a glimpse of an experience of a single family over a couple of generations battling with its identity, with its nationalism.

When one sits down to write, though, it becomes too easy to confuse the desire for understanding (the reason I went into this strange business) with the ambition to write well, and meaningfully, so that other people can understand. Something. This is where the youthful inexperience creeps in — I can’t quite determine what I want the reader to understand. So I sit down at my desk every day, I drill something out. Some words, some sentences and paragraphs. Usually what comes out is trash. Usually it feels like exhaustive exercise, like filling in empty spaces with all the force you can muster for very little reason and even less return. Until, after days, a thought that has been hidden under the current of trite pages comes into focus. And then I call my brother, or my mother to discuss it. I bring it up at dinner parties. I back-read the newspaper. I exhaust the theory, to death. And, at last, I have an opinion on it that can stick. That can be understood. That can, even if the circumstances change, last. They call this the truth. It is not an arrogant objectivity — it is a discipline, a drill. If I can tell the truth, if even just in a single sentence, on a remote country, in a particular time, then I’ve done the job.

2,000 sentences to go.

A quote I came across, by McInerney: …Before then, I had thought of writing as something akin to divine inspiration. I would wait for the muse. Turns out you have to be dressed and ready for the muse or she will never come.