SANDRA CAREY CODY ON: WHEN THE WELL SEEMS DRY
The screen stares back at you–blank. To a writer, there’s nothing more intimidating than a blank screen on a bad day. On a good day, the screen never seems blank; it’s like a fountain, bubbling and vital, ready to nurture the seeds you’re eager to plant, to give life to the story you need to tell. But I’m not talking about a good day. Today is bad. The well is dry; the fountain is silent. So, what do you do?
You start typing. You press keys and spell out words–any words–one after another. The words resist. You persist. You shape them into sentences. On the kind of day in question, the sentences are clunky and awkward. They express ideas that are trite–or worse, there’s no discernible idea. It’s babble. You read it and shake your head, wondering why you ever thought you could do this. You think about going for a cup of tea, but in your heart you know it won’t help. Maybe a glass of wine? No, that won’t help either. In your heart, you know nothing will help except the old derriere in the chair routine. So, you stay put. You press more keys, spell out more words. Shape them into more sentences and arrange paragraphs around the sentences.
Do this long enough and the screen is no longer blank. You’re making progress. You read it again. There’s nothing wise about the words, nothing graceful about the prose. Not only is it not pretty, it’s embarrassingly ugly. It’s all the things you worried about: awkward, clunky, trite, meaningless. In spite of that, you begin to feel hopeful. “That’s okay,” you tell yourself. No matter how bad it is, it can be revised, so you keep typing.
You take a break and read it again.
Finally, out of the bad stuff, there’s something “not too bad” that leads to something better. And so on, until the pieces begin to fall into place. The dry well begins to yield a small trickle. It may not turn into the gushing fountain you hoped for when you sat down. That may not come until tomorrow or next week or next month or even . . . let’s not go there.
But believe this: eventually, the fountain will flow and, when it does, it won’t be because of that magical thing you hoped for when you turned on your computer, the thing called inspiration. It will be because of all the days you reached into the seemingly dry well and teased forth a stubborn trickle of clunky, awkward and oh so elusive words.