400 Words

May 11th, 2010 § 89

By Anna Taylor

A friend comes to me. “Write me four hundred words,” she says. “On anything.”

Characteristically, my mind does what it does best when faced with such challenges: It goes completely blank.

You would think such a broad spectrum would allow a limitless potential. Instead, it causes my intellect to contort into an impressive fetal position.

So many times I approach an open Word document on my computer, intimidated by the sheer whiteness and emptiness that I see before me. Some people see the possibilities, embracing the opportunity to fill an empty void.

My best friend Jess, a talented artist, is one of these people. I have seen her transform a fresh canvas into a masterpiece in a matter of seconds. I, on the other hand, allow intimidation to seep into the process. What happens if what I see in my mind isn’t what flows out of my fingers? What if I can’t find the best words? What if I can’t convey the thoughts and impressions swirling in my head? To borrow a phrase, what if it doesn’t come out right?

I once confided to a mentor that I was having trouble writing because of this fear of not getting it “right.” He looked at me for a long minute and then said simply, “Don’t be afraid of a blank canvas.”

His words struck me deeply. The secret is simple, isn’t it? It never comes out “right.”

Those impressive masterpieces Jess produces are often canvasses she turns to face the wall. Words, while powerful, vital, relevant, and versatile, simply are not enough sometimes. The human mind cannot be transferred and translated to paper accurately by means of a few symbols; the fact that we can attempt to do so is amazing.

Reading and writing are incredible gifts, allowing us to try to capture something breathtaking. Ultimately, however, what they best capture is the intangibility and inscrutability that is the essence of thought and feeling.

Sometimes people speak truth into your life in a way that makes you realize something that should have been obvious all along. My mentor’s words were some of the most profound I have ever been given. Nothing will ever come out the way we want it to. So why worry? Just write. Don’t fear the blank canvas.

And now I have 400 words.

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