Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Once a writer

Posted by boakley59 on February 15, 2008

Time was when writing came easier. These days, it seems, I am a bit rusty.

Like the Tin Woodman struggling to swing his axe, I find my thoughts resist smooth flow. I strain to find my voice, but the creak of clumsy words cuts me short. I have been away from the grindstone for too long and the razor sharpness is gone. I tap out sentences, but get back only a dull, thudding echo of the thoughts behind them.

Time was when I was a young and vibrant writer, a “Tin Wordman” perhaps, who could polish off a piece in no time. I needed only a topic and time for reflection. It didn’t even need to be quiet time; I could chip away at an idea in the back of my head as I went about the business of the day. When it came time to write, I would cut straight and true to the heart of the matter.

I was in those days a practiced craftsman, with a method to my madness. I knew that I wrote best when committed to my subject, so I reviewed each day with a keen eye for raw material. Always thinking ahead to my next essay, I looked back on each day for the little moments that struck a nerve, or the funny bone. Those little moments were all stories waiting to be told, lessons waiting to be taught, passions waiting to be shared. The stories would tell themselves, if I would just find them.

But it has been long since I was a paid tradesman charged to produce such pieces, and I have fallen out of the habit of crafting for my own pleasure. In the intervening decades as an editor, I have occasionally prepared a lecture, written a guide or compiled a research thesis, but mainly I have been writing headlines and polishing someone else’s prose. Writing has become a collection of brief, disconnected exercises in clarifying someone else’s thoughts. The careful review of each day with an eye toward a thoughtful revelation shared with dear reader has fallen by the way.

So I find myself puttering in the shop, working on pieces in starts and stops, trying to regain the delicate touch. Oh, the stories are there, still waiting to be told. In my months of disability, I have had time thrust upon me. That time has been filled with thoughts of hospital stays, insurance bureaucracy, banal television commercials, the undeserved love and support of friends. I made a list of catch phrases waiting to be expanded and expounded upon.

When some of them could wait no more, they brought me to Brulog. But my unpracticed hand finds me hitting snags with my catch phrases, and my carving takes unproductive turns. Part of me is more timid, fearful that the sharp edge will slice the wrong target; part of me is more rigid, not looking so hard for the newness in things; part of me is more gray, unable to resolve to black and white.

Still, it’s been only a few weeks and I suspect the touch will return. Come along with me and let us find the edge together.

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