June 16, 1997
The evening well-advanced, a deadline approaching and here you are with nothing to say; no inspiration. You'd like to write about the murmur of the breeze in the surrounding foliage but the only music clouding your brain is the engine of a washing machine and a drier muffling in the background, and the puttering sound of a sprinkler watering a would-be lawn. Nothing exciting, to say the least.
Yet, somehow and in spite of an unremitting writer's block, there is something beneficial about deadlines. They force upon you a touch of discipline. Like it or not, a new commentary must be published and it's your turn to produce. No procrastination allowed; no excuse permitted.
Most of our contributors have dwindled away; mainly by lack of discipline and the inability to overcome the debilitating and quite depressing effect of having to produce, even when considering they had nothing substantive to write about. It seems they needed to believe that their stories and other compositions had to have an impact on the readers. The more serious their papers, the more seriously they believed, the more seriously they took themselves.
They knew little!
Writing has nothing to do with the desired or imagined consequences on the readers but absolutely everything with the writer and her or his discipline. You write because, as Rilke wrote it in his "Letters to a Young Poet", you cannot but write. A form of disease without any doubt, especially when you contemplate the millions of words published daily around the world... Then, how often has anyone read an unforgettable piece in the New York Times? How many novelists can you remember from all the novels you have read? To be read, after all, is nothing more than a gratuity, a gift.
If polls can be trusted, Gen-X America does not read newspapers. That's 80 million people. According to Roger Black, the guru of newspaper and magazine designers, 75 percent of people will only read the top half of a folded newspaper, and most browsers on the Web will never scroll.
We tend to forget the obvious, especially when the ego gets on [the] line.
Meantime, discipline rules!