The English Major and Her Unfamiliar Lover

Imagine you’ve married the one person you’re certain you will love forever. The bond between you and your spouse is so pure, so organic, that for you to be with anyone else just doesn’t make sense. This is the exact person you dreamed of marrying even before you knew what marriage meant. But when you lie down to sleep with your beloved each night, there’s one little problem: You wake up to a stranger the next day. Your memory bank resets every night, requiring you to get to know your spouse anew each day, as if you’d never laid eyes on him or her before. The scenario may sound like an Adam Sandler movie, but it is a situation with which the serious writer is too familiar. As a lover one does not recognize each morning, writing can frighten and perplex the English major, who must, through agonizing experiment, learn how to understand—and love—the craft once again.

An English major may have written scores of well-received essays, reports, and research papers in his or her academic career, but when the professor assigns a new challenge, fear often seizes the heart. Twirling strands of hair and writhing at the desk, the writer dreads the thought of meeting the blank page again. When is the paper due? How long should it be? Will there be enough time to write it and still go out this weekend? Nevermind that the writer has met deadlines again and again. Nevermind that the writer has written myriad thesis statements: He or she may still feel the need to search for examples online. Because the topic is new and time has passed since the last assignment, the writer wonders whether this set of words can be as good as the words on previous pages. So begins hours of nailbiting.

As the second, third, eighth first date with the blank page begins, the nervous writer fusses over what to wear, so to speak. What should be the thesis? If the professor has offered multiple prompts from which to choose, which topic will require the least amount of sweat and blood to conquer? Which essay prompt is least ambiguous? Then the writer mulls over what she and her unfamiliar lover will discuss at dinner. She wonders whether she’ll make sense or bore this lover she has only met hundreds of times. Instead of sitting down to write just one more essay, she gets up—right in the middle of the date—to do laundry. Maybe her closet needs organizing or her bookshelves need dusting. But the diversions are pointless. Her paramour, the blank page, is still sitting at the dinner table, waiting for her amnesia to fade. She can’t use his bad breath as an excuse to relieve herself from her duty. Only when she calms her wayward thoughts and begins to fill that page with words and ideas can she rediscover her great love. The deadline looms, and she begins to write.

The writing process, similar to those first few months of getting to know and admire someone new, is long. Does every topic sentence point back to the thesis? Can this word be substituted for that? The questions could go on endlessly, but the writer pushes on through her discomfort, worry, and confusion. As her thoughts materialize on the page, recognition floods her amygdala. Smiling, she realizes that she has known her unfamiliar lover called writing all along. She pulled out a few strands of hair in vain. Holding hands, she and her lover skip down an endless, rose-lined path of bliss. She is joyful, satisfied, brimming with love—until she she must write again, at least.

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30 Days of Personal Growth, Day 29: Just Do It…You Probably Know How

Sorry; I have no space left for advice. Just do it.
-Donald E. Westlake

I work as a freelance writer and magazine intern, and every time I sit down to write something, I freeze. I’ve been through the scenario a million times, but each time I futz over the assignment as if I’ve never written anything in my life.

For example, my first freelance magazine piece is an interview due on Saturday, and I’m having the hardest time organizing my thoughts. I’m going back and forth over the details, reading articles from past issues and staring out the window every five minutes, hoping a wave of inspiration will wash over me. And nothing happens. Nothing happens until I stop squirming and write.

I think we make things more difficult when we forget our successes, when we forget that we’ve done this very same thing before and have done it well. Sure, I haven’t written this exact piece before, but I have written profiles. I’ve written blog posts, e-commerce copy, and term papers. With every new project, it’s up to me to have confidence in myself that I can finish the job. And the best way to finish a job is to just do it, not to obsess over it.

While it’s not easy, I’m really trying to remind myself of my successes when I feel stuck. Once I finish what feels like a daunting assignment, I realize how silly it was for me to stress over it. So today, remember your successes. Remember that even when something is new and a bit scary, you may already have the tools you need to conquer it. Once you realize you’re already prepared, don’t stress any longer–just do it!