You've got to show them something. It isn't as if the deadline is breaking news. You've been thinking about it for weeks, panic settling in like sand falling through the hour glass, running out of the top, the bulb almost empty, falling down in a pile that seems as if it's burying you. All you have to do, you tell yourself, is write something. Almost anything will do. Except you don't really believe that last bit. It has to be good. Or maybe it just has to be good enough. It has been weeks since you've written good enough.
It isn't that you haven't tried. You've got beginnings, half a dozen of them, maybe more. You've even got a big idea to write about—more than one—and it should carry you through. It should work. You can imagine reeling it off in one big push as you so often have. You're set to go. You know the routine. You sit down, committed, and you work it through. But eight hundred words in—sometimes sooner, sometimes later—you run out of steam, hit the wall, peter out, or whatever you're calling it today when you push back from the computer staring at the blinking cursor. You wonder how that cursor can beat like a heart when clearly the draft is dead. You take your own pulse, curious if you've still got one. You count it off to see if it's racing or slowed to a lethargic rhythm. It feels like the sort of thing you need to know.
When you get up from the desk and walk away, your thoughts turn to the idea of writer's block. Why not? It seems the most likely diagnosis, but you hate the idea of it, have denied its existence for years. Writer's block, you've said, is a crutch for writers too lazy to work through doubt. It is choosing not to write when the going gets tough. Hypochondria, that's what you've called it. Sure, you've experienced droughts, dry periods of desperate frustration, but you've come out of them every single time. Every one. The piece always comes and you find again the easy rhythm. There's no such thing as writer's block. You remember saying that. Worse, you remember believing it.
But you remember too the sure feeling that you're not coming out of it this time, kid. That feeling wipes out the knowledge that these moments of inability pass. Or maybe it doesn't wipe them out so much as leave you wondering, is this time different? You have thoughts such as nothing kills you until something does. This, you think, might be the time you're blocked for good. You're washed up.
As a kid, you could pull things off at the last minute. You could write the essay in homeroom or at quarter to two the morning it's due. You threw so much energy at it things just worked. How much energy do you have now? There are your kids and spouse, your job and bills, and your car won't start. You're too old for all-nighters and youthful enthusiasm. Your best days are behind you, of that you're sure.
Still, there's that good idea you've been chewing on for months. It's not even in your head so much as somewhere deeper. For a moment you smile, thinking the idea is up ahead of you, that it's just not time for it to come out and all you have to do is be patient. Let the clock take you there.
Lot of good that does you with this deadline. But you admit, quietly, it feels a little better thinking this way, feeling that the idea really is good and coming to you, that you may still be up to writing it. You know too that you're the only one who can ever write it.
"But I've tried," you say and can hear that you're whining. You try to sound grown up as you explain the number of drafts that have died a few hundred words in, but you still sound like a child who has dropped his ice cream and would rather cry than get another. Embarrassed, you sigh and wonder if this is the sound of acceptance. You hope so.
You're weighing a simple, binary decision: write or don't write. You're either can or can't. You either will or won't. Whatever you decide, the world will likely keep spinning in the same direction and speed as if your decision didn't matter at all. Make the deadline, miss it, half-ass your way through. How much, you wonder, does any of it matter?
It matters to you.
You want to show them something. You want to get through. You want to stop worrying and whining. How can the movement of a pen or the tap dance on a keyboard save you? Seems impossible. But you pick up the pen and put it to the paper. You open the laptop and type.
Just so long as you never write in the second person. The rest of it, you'll figure out as you go along.