These Simple Questions Spark My Desire to Write More
After agonizing writer’s block, this award-winning writer reminded me that our work allows us and our readers to be free
I have a script in hand at all times. From my speech to become class rep in the first grade to the last presentation I gave in college, I’ve always followed my script. My off-beat details, spontaneity, jokes, and all the other features of great oratory skills are planned out, rehearsed and delivered with a script I’ve written with care. Improv isn’t my thing; I stammer halfway through a 30-second explanation of any topic I hold dear to my heart. It’s like I’m playing a game of tag with the dictionary and every word is ‘It’, a game so fast-paced I have to stall for time — using brilliant techniques such as stumbling over my words — for the next, best word to come to me.
When I couldn’t script pretty much anything for half of 2020, it felt like someone had clipped my wings and burned them, but then I heard these words: “In every other story you need to explain, like, ‘what are we doing here?’” New Yorker staff writer Kathryn Schulz says on the Longform podcast, a weekly conversation with a non-fiction writer on how they tell stories. “You have to do the very hard work of stepping back and thinking, ‘what is it about? What am I arguing here?’” As Schulz often works to the tune of 5000 words per article, she’d better be making a point; she needs to justify why she’s taking up space on the page, and she does it through a meticulously structured and compelling narrative that allows her readers to care enough to continue reading.
Taking up space, and always giving a reason for doing so, speaks to me. I’m Black. Sometimes I have to explain what I’m doing here, whether ‘here’ is out at night, in academia, or in one of the fancier shops of a suburb that is slowly being gentrified. The way people have responded to my identity throughout my life is partly why I justify my existence in everything I do, and that takes time, grit, craft. It takes a script.
It’s true that, in a way, I use scripts for protection. An improv performer could even say that my scripts are just crutches or a way to overcome a handicap. But it’s deeper than that. I’m a person who feels a lot but has a…