Everyone wants to have written but no one actually wants to write. This is because writing, or at least the kind of writing that is worthy of reading, is hard work. Such a thing requires thinking, and protracted mental exercise tends to make pudgy minds sore. Though the ability to write well may be a painful skill to acquire, it certainly beats the numbness which accompanies an atrophied imagination.
The assimilation of paragraphs requires the resilient patience of a marriage counselor. Sentences, headstrong and independent as they so often are, must be taught how to get on well with others. They must be brought in line, in harmony, in union with one another. But it must be a felicitous union. A forced union between conflicting clauses causes a certain discomfort in a reader. It is the kind of unease which a dinner guest may feel upon witnessing a private familial row; he can’t unsee the unpleasantness and now he is at a loss for what to do with his eyes for the rest of the evening. He can’t continue looking on for fear that his hosts may make another scandalous scene, and he can’t very well look away because he doesn’t want to repay rudeness with rudeness. Good writing spares its readers the burden of such moments of mutual embarrassment. They are dedicated to the proposition that propositions must be dedicated to one another. If they can’t be happily married, then they have to break it off before the relationship ever becomes public.
But paragraphs are not even the worst of it. Sentences are the real troublemakers; rag-tag packs of unwieldy words, most of which refuse to come when called, or if they do come they do so with all the elegance of a herd of feral cats—and with the same penchant for rambling. A man of literary talent may be able to line such rebellious words up in such a consecutive fashion that coherent thoughts eventually emerge, but not without considerable labor.
Sentences are seventy-five percent liquid; they are made mostly of sweat. A good sentence amalgamates inspiration, information, and perspiration—though never in measures proportionate to its size. The reader should never feel the balminess of the writer’s efforts between his thumbs. The former agonizes and stumbles over the words so that the latter need not do so.
But first the writer must find those elusive words which hide in the nettle-laden thickets around the edges of his imagination. Getting there is difficult. By some dark magic, the path into the bush is daily overgrown and covered with brambles. Each day finds the writer groping his way into the deep unknown, reaching out with mental fingers hoping to lay hold upon some amiable noun or reclusive verb. Should the writer prove valiant in his quest for words, he then faces the new challenge of finding his way back again. The mysterious wood into which he journeyed is an enchanted place, if he lingers too long with his newfound treasures he soon forgets why he first set out at all.
These ruminations are more testimony than theory. This is not second-hand information overheard from some distant third party. These are the omnipresent spirits that inhabit this present writer’s mind (as the eminent past writers might have put it). Too many have been the times that I have raised my voice, calling down the hollow, dusty, and unfurnished spaces of my mind, summoning my servants, my carefully chosen but willful and lazy staff of words, to my immediate aid but hearing no answer. No doubt my staff was off somewhere dreaming of exciting and exotic things, too amazed by the marvelous to be intruded upon by the monotonous. Such jobs as I find for them to do seem tedious to them. Perhaps they have yet to learn that their presence is what transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. Still, the more I entreat them, the less they seem to listen. After an hour or two, a little lad of a word begins to feel sorry for me and comes and tugs on my britches leg. It’s always the same short, indefinite article with nothing particular to say, though offering the small comfort of having at least tried to say something. Then, as though my own volition played no part in the matter, my staff slowly starts to assemble in the Great Hall of my mind, standing at eager attention. “Your orders sir?” they say with a slightly mischievous grin, pretending that we don’t both know who is really in charge. These are the persistent phantoms that haunt my pen.