thirteen ways of looking at my writer’s block

confession by Rachel Landau, ’16

1. People should pursue the pleasure of writing about their interests.  For example, I would love to write an essay about painted doors, and loud music, and loneliness.  Note that Mrs. Dalloway does not make this short list of acceptable subjects.

2. Assignment sheets represent the inevitable doom of the written word.

3. In order for something to be known, it must be justified, true, and believed. It must also possess some fourth trait, currently unknown despite the many philosophers devoted to its discovery. That’s right, folks: We don’t know anything at all. Not even those things we think we know, like the color of the sky, or our own middle names. I don’t know anything about books even though I’ve read them all twice.

4. Students are brought up thinking that essays are merely classroom assignments.  Essay writing destroys essay writing destroys essay writing.

5. Ask me how to write a So What™ that isn’t just a recommendation of what flowers to buy for your most spoiled friend.

6. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself, and she meant it at the time, but then she remembered that she had English class next block.

7. The feeling upwelled from afternoons spent scrolling through old word documents. It seeped in the moment last Monday when I returned home, that peculiar instant when I knew I would never write another page.  It leaked from my word choice and sprinted away from my writing and jumped off bridges composed of keyboards.  As much as I want to write an essay about Mrs. Dalloway, I just can’t.  I won’t.

8. Essay writing matters, and writing essays serves a deep importance in how we, as writers and readers and dreamers, can convey the waves that wash our minds.  My essays, however, come from deep and swampy corners of my brain. Alligators everywhere.

9. After fifteen hours of screaming at my roommate, who kept eating almonds and playing really loud pop music while I tried to have a prolonged moment of artistic misery, I completed the essay.  I wrote the worst five pages of my life.  Afterwards, I vowed that I would never let myself finish a terrible essay again—I promised that everything I would turn in from here on out would only ever be what I felt comfortable using to present myself.

10. What about those of us who don’t feel like being creative?  Who feel stifled and dismantled by classroom conversations?  Who would rather run into a burning building than offer up one last comment about synecdoche?

11. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself, but then she realized that she would have no flowers and no essay. She turned into a pillar of salt.  She wanted to write an essay, really, but she just couldn’t.  She wouldn’t.

12. Oh, vulnerability!  To share not only words, not only sentences, not only paragraphs, but whole pages devoted to the exchange of ideas! To expose, to create, to sell oneself after being stripped of value! Not everyone can be a daredevil always ready to sacrifice a name.  When it comes to writing an essay about Mrs. Dalloway, there is no exception, not even one marked by an asterisk, not even one noted by a parenthetical.

(It was one of the greatest books I’d ever read, she said later in a conversation with her mom. What I would give to write an essay about it.)

13. Long before I knew how to read and write, and long before I knew a good story from a half-rotten one, I knew how to feel.  Yes—I knew desire before I knew the alphabet. Perhaps that explains why I know how much I want to write an essay without knowing how I would ever actually go about writing one.  


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