Friday, September 11, 2009

If I can't write, how the hell am I supposed to come up with a title for this blog post?

by Helen E. H. Madden

I hated this topic from the moment I first laid eyes on it. What would I do if I couldn't write? Are you kidding me? Not writing is like not breathing for me. I'd eventually turn blue in the face and keel over dead. Seriously, who's cock-a-mamie idea was this topic anyway?

Oh well (she says, rolling her eyes). I'll play along I guess. If I couldn't write, I would like to be...

An Egyptologist! I'd travel to exotic locations, explore pyramids, discover mummies and treasures galore, and write about my exploits in all the latest archaeological journal--

What? Oh yeah, right. I'm not able to write. Okay, forget that. Let's try again. If I couldn't write, I would be...

A rock star! Yeah, I've always wanted to play electric guitar! I'd go on tour and sing to millions, no BILLIONS, of adoring groupies! I'd wear all the latest gothic fashions and croon these amazingly deep dark songs about love and puppies and stuff. Of course I'd write my own lyric--

Huh? What? Dammit. I forgot. No writing. Okay, let's see. If I couldn't write, I would be...

A biologist! I've always loved science. I'd be a field biologist, the kind who gear up in khakis and hip waders and go out into the rain forests and find new species and write books on evolution--

God dammit! Okay, if I couldn't write, I would be...

Ah, I can't do this. This is ridiculous! If I couldn't write, I'd be dead! Dead, do you hear me?! The only way you'll get my word processor away from me is to pry it out of my cold, dead hands! And there will be at least three, count them, THREE masterpieces on it because that's the kind of writer I am. If I weren't a writer, I'd be a cashier in a lousy fast food joint, counting the days until I could blow my brains out, okay? That's what it would be like for me if I couldn't write.

Oh, but wait! you say. Helen, what about your art? Couldn't you just draw instead?

NO I COULDN'T JUST DRAW INSTEAD! Because art, really good art, involves story telling. You ever hear how a picture is worth a thousand words? Yeah, that's actually true, and if I couldn't write a thousand words, then I damn sure wouldn't be able to draw them, would I? Not anything good, anyway. I wouldn't be able to cartoon, because cartooning definitely involves writing. Don't believe me? You try putting together a four panel strip. I dare you. And if I couldn't write, I wouldn't be able to get a decent job in any other field because most fields these days require at least some capacity to communicate in written form. I'd at least have to be able to put together a decent e-mail.

Oh, but e-mail isn't writing, is it? WRONG! E-mail is so writing! In fact, there are a lot of everyday things we do that involve writing or storytelling in some form. Try telling a joke without telling a story. Try discussing over dinner what you did today without resorting to telling a story. Try tucking your kids in bed tonight and answering their questions about why the sky is blue and trees are green, except in the Fall when the leaves turn yellow and red and brown, without telling a story. Try doing any of that without telling a story. It's impossible, I tell you. Simply impossible.

Of course, some of you out there are shaking your heads and saying, "No Helen. Those things you've mentioned can't be writing or storytelling, because I do them, and I can't write." Bullocks. You can too write. You've just convinced yourself you can't. I bet if you sat down at the computer right now, you could type out at least one funny story from your childhood, like the time your dad got his tie caught in the toaster and ended up setting himself on fire as a result (or was that my dad who did that? I don't recall). Maybe it wouldn't be perfect. Maybe it would be riddled with spelling and grammar errors, and you put the punch line in the wrong place and sort of limped through to the end, but you could write that story. And if you wanted, you could rewrite it to make it better. And then rewrite it again if you want, until you've got that story polished like gold. And you know why you'd be able to do this? Because you're human, and humans are storytellers to their very cores. To be human is to be full of endless tales and jokes and anecdotes that we just have to share with each other. Tell me, what other species on this planet tells stories, huh?

If I couldn't write, I'd be an aardvark, dammit, because that's all I'd be good for.

'Nuff said.


  1. Cool it, Helen! Nobody said that you couldn't tell stories. Just that you couldn't write them down effectively!

    We're not talking about illiteracy here. Just not having the precious gift that we do of being able to shape other people's emotions and thoughts with our words.

    However, I get your drift... ;^)

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. *Jenna offers Helen a plate of fudgy brownies* Calm down, Helen. I'm sorry I picked this topic, I'll never pick it again. I promise.

    You're damned funny when you're not writing, you know?

    Hee hee hee

    Nice post!


  3. Hi Helen,

    You're beautiful when you're angry :-)

    Wonderful post, and I can only agree.



  4. Hi Helen!

    In the different craft books I've read there is only one principle they all agree on - to be a writer you have to love to write. Writing has to be as vital as breathing. Its the way you describe it, as something you just can;t imagine not doing. Every after that is just extra.


  5. Yay Helen!

    An aardvark. WTF!

    I so agree with you. Jenna should be taken out and hung by her heals, then smeared with honey, then tickled...uh... this is getting to sound pretty damn kinky. Gulp!

    You want to tie her up or what?

    Thanks for venting. I loved it!


  6. Lisabet,

    You know me. I'm a pain in the ass, and have to rant every now and then ;)

    Chalk this rant up to the fact that I have two degrees in communication. All I can say on the topic is that every person is inherently capable of telling stories, and if they can tell stories, they can write them. They have to WANT to write them, but that ability is there, waiting to be summoned and perfected.

    My oldest daughter is learning to write, and by extension put her stories into writing. She likes to make "books" - collections of drawings with some sentences written on them. She gets frustrated when they don't come out exactly the way she wants them to, and then starts to tell me she can't write. I keep telling her she can, she just needs to practice!

  7. Jenna,

    I'm a pain in the ass is what I am! Honestly, I did go through the entire list of other things I'd love to do, but realized they all involved some degree of storytelling and writing. And I've been working on the podcast so long now I get the shakes if I go more than a day without writing.

    Those brownies were delicious by the way ;D

    Oh, and pick whatever topic you want! I'm a big girl. I can take it!

  8. Ashley,

    You should see me when I'm catatonic. I'm stunning then!

  9. Garce,

    There's a podcast called "I Should Be Writing," by Mur Lafferty, in which she talks about her own quest to write and become published, and she has a lot of good advice to offer to writers, mainly that if they want to write, then do it! It's not about having a degree in English or literature, it's not about having a fancy word processor, it's not about having perfect grammmar and spelling skills, it's about the desire to write and the discipline to do it on a regular basis that makes people writers. It does become as necessary as breathing after a while, as would any activity I suppose if you do it often enough. I'm sure someone has done some study on how people's brains react to activities they love like writing, drawing, exercising, etc. I'd be interested in reading the research on that. I wonder if the need/addiction to write is somehow similar to the need/addiction to drugs?

  10. Jude,

    Hmmmm. Tie Jenna up. That sounds like a book title right there...

    I just spent a week writing a story about Lovecraft's Innsmouth and nuclear bomb testing in the South Pacific, and it was hell to trudge through, but I couldn't imagine not doing what I was doing once I got started. Then in the midst of it all, I looked up the topic for this week and thought, "WTF?!" I almost could not wrap my brain around the idea! Imagine, having writer's block over a blog post on not being able to write. So I went the smart ass route and wormed my way out of that conundrum.

    After we tie Jenna up, can we spank her too? Or would she enjoy that too much, you think?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.