Cutting Back

by: T.E. Cowell

Overcome with frustration, a writer struggles to find a reason to continue the pursuit. Why we write…

I write the first sentence of what I think — hope — might turn out to be the start of another story, but then I consider that it’s pretty bad after I read it. Nevertheless, I re-read the sentence again and  again, wondering, as I do, if I might be able to elevate its quality. You see, poorly written first sentences are my forte. At least, that is, according to my girlfriend. I’ve managed, over the years, to write a good number of stories that have started out with opening sentences that, like this one, were pretty awful. But, as the stories progressed they turned into something worthwhile, and because of this the opening sentence could be seen in a new light, becoming an integral part of the story. At least, that’s how it always seemed to me.

My stories’ opening sentences are usually short and straightforward. They generally lack commas, and exist as true statements. This isn’t always the case, but whenever I look back on all of the stories I’ve ever written, this trend seems to be something that repeats itself. I begin with something genuine, something that actually happened to me, and then I proceed from there, fictionalizing what follows.

Writing isn’t easy for me though. I usually have to read my opening sentence over once more, and often nothing comes to me despite the exercise. The more that I read the sentence over, the worse it sounds to me. Maybe it’s because I’m just not in the mood at the moment to write. Lately, it seems I am less and less in the mood to write. This is something that worries me, that frightens me and bothers me. In my experience it gets harder, writing, the more I do it. Both the writing itself and finding the time to do it have become elusive. Work often gets in the way, and everything that work entails. For a long time now, all I’ve ever wanted to do is write.

I can’t help but wondering what was I thinking writing the sentence that I wrote in the first place? Am I so eager to write a new story that I’ll write a sentence like the one I’d just written for no apparent reason other than to write a sentence and see what, if anything, comes of it?

I read the sentence again, and still nothing comes to me. I feel as though my writerly abilities, for lack of a better phrase, are slipping. I could just be paranoid, but what if I’m not? I hate to think that I’m already losing “it.” I used to have more hindsight than this, though, I’m pretty sure. More imagination, more foresight, more of everything that a writer relies on to write. Am I really even a writer anymore? What makes a writer a writer, exactly? I still have the desire to write, the old flame to craft tales has yet to wane. It’s just that I’m always so tired these days. Tired, tired, tired.

Frustrated, I slam down the top half of my laptop and stand up from my seat on the couch. I storm into the kitchen and wrench another beer from the fridge. I open the beer and chug away. The hell with writing, I think. The hell with it. The hell with it, the hell with it, the hell with it. Why do I even bother? If it brings me so much frustration, so much anguish, why the hell do I even bother?

Even as I ask myself this, I know why I continue to write. Because when I’m able to write, when it feels good, and when it feels like I’m onto something, I feel alive in a way I never feel at any other time when I’m in the groove. That is why I continue to challenge myself with writing.

When I finish my beer, I wander back over to the couch, and open my laptop back up. I have to write a second sentence. I have to. I can’t stop now…I’ve barely even started. If I stopped now I’d be kicking myself for the rest of the evening, and for however many days it took for me to forget about such a pathetic episode.      

Finally, I read the opening sentence over one last time. Then, in a moment of uncertainty, I delete it. I sit there on the couch and wait for my brain to kick into gear, for another opening sentence to come to me. I close my eyes and think. When did thinking get so hard? I think about getting up and having another beer, but I refrain. I think maybe that’s the problem, or at least a part of the problem. I need to start doing something about that. I need to start cutting back on my drinking. I need to stop telling myself this and actually start doing something about it. Maybe then I’d have an easier time getting past these seemingly dead-end opening sentences.

1 Comment

  • It’s honest. I love it. What writer has not felt this way? If it’s not drinking then it’s something else. Just wasting time, watching TV. That’s what I do. It’s getting more and more difficult to find motivation. “Cutting Back” resonates, T.E. Cowell. It resonates.

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