500 Words, Day One / by dan turner

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Happy September 1st! Welcome to 500 words of September. Are you read to write your first 500 words?

You are receiving this mail because you mentioned in person or via email/blog comments that you wished to join me in building up your writing muscles. . It is recommended you pick a time each day and write at that time, every single day, weekends and all.
— The 500Words Challenge by Christina Wodtke


"'It'll be good for you' means 'you won't like this'" is probably an analytic proposition. That is, the second concept is contained in the first, the way "all triangles have three sides" is an analytic proposition. That is, I'm betting most of us who signed up for Christina's "500 Words a Day" project knew that the making the public commitment and the positive peer pressure would force us to churn out said number of words each day of September, in the hopes that this practice would indeed improve our writing, while also knowing that we would to some degree haaaaate it. (The "gulp" and "oy" type of comments on Christina's original post would bear this out.)

Honesty, Rilke's suggestion that you'll know you're a writer because you can't not write has always struck me as – well, it cuts into my writing time because I'm busy fantasizing about punching him. Of course it's a bit problematic to say anyone is a "writer" (what if you never produce a word? does the Think Method count?), but there are countless examples of published, awarded authors staring at blank paper or screens and wondering if there's any chance nobody would notice if they took an alias and started hitchhiking to Tierra del Fuego starting now.

And on the flip side, there are any number of logorrheics who are the print analogues of habitual Sunday political chat show guests who keep talking or writing because there's the slight but terrible danger that they might disappear if someone stops paying attention to them.

Maybe that's what drives people to hold up "self-expression" as a moral imperative. I admit I don't really understand the term. My writing isn't about me; I was a journalist. My name was attached to every published story, but the first-person pronoun was neither the goal or even an element of any of them. There are so many more interesting things in the world, after all.

But a conversation with an artist friend today offered an interesting take. His art is not self-portraiture by any stretch, but he pointed out that it's all an exploration of how he sees things. He said he wouldn't want to read anything that didn't have a good authorial voice, and that he considered that voice, that style, to be self-expression. It's a happy by-product, he said, that the existence of this voice or the painter's vision reminds the viewer that they're not just a brain in a bucket but that others exist, and perceive the world.

And it is a basic human need, that others notice you exist. Perhaps that's why some of the top pick-up lines in music are all about being noticed. "Working on the Highway" is not even near his best song, but you can't deny how the Springsteen line, "I looked straight at her, and she looked straight back", could drive a couple to drive off together, no matter what the law says.

And that is 500 words.