They look over your shoulder and ask, with half-hearted curiosity, “What are you writing?” You wish you could adequately answer the question. As you’re struggling to come up with a satisfactory answer, your hands are also fidgeting a bit, trying to figure out how to handle that sudden urge to snap the notebook or the laptop shut. You’re so used to working in solitude, and are not yet comfortable with nakedness.
You’re kind of wishing that what they see with their eyes could be enough of an answer for them, but you know that the most useful thing they’ve managed to pick up is probably the title of the document, or the words in uppercase written at the top of the page. You already know that whichever two sentences they’ve processed out of everything available are in no way good enough to quench their curiosity. This bothers you, even though you know it’s probably inconsequential. You already know that in the editing process, at least 60% of what’s on this page is going to change anyway. It doesn’t yet reflect what’s in your head, which barely means anything, because what’s in your head also happens to change about every two seconds.
As you fumble with explanations to give that human looking over your shoulder, your brain keeps complaining to itself about itself, wishing its talent was something a bit more obvious, a bit more graphic, a bit less solitary, a whole lot more consumable. Why couldn’t you just be a visual artist? So that when someone asks you what you’re drawing, you can just avoid the question vocally by letting them look, letting them know that whatever they’re seeing is whatever you’re making. Why couldn’t you be a musician, so if someone asks what you’re doing, you can just unplug the headphones and play through the loudspeakers? Why couldn’t you be the kind of artist whose works-in-progress are at least in a presentable format? Who is going to read a collection of notes and half-formed paragraphs and understand whatever the hell you’re trying to create? (And in the moment you’re thinking these, you know in the back of your mind that every kind of artistry has its own set of issues, but you’re not in the mood to be objective right now. You’re flustered and frustrated.)
Your craft is so solitary and you get nervous because you feel like you can read people’s minds, and you think you know everything they’re thinking: that you never do anything, that you’re lazy, always sneaking off to lonely places probably to waste time or do mischievous things. You don’t blame them. They can’t see what you’re doing, for goodness’ sake. How can they trust that progress is being made when the only product is a document sitting on your computer and yours alone? Thoughts of showing people “whatever you have” in the middle of the process are repulsive to you because you can barely stand the nakedness that is allowing people to read the lyrical pile of crap that the world calls a “draft.” Won’t it turn them off to the final product forever? Won’t it destroy their perception of you as a literary hero when they see the far-less-than glamorous process by which a piece of writing goes from crappy to consumable?
When the human looking over your shoulder finally leaves, after having had to pretend they were fascinated by all the BS you were spewing to them, you look for relief by opening your social media apps. When you see a couple of those really lit, time-lapse videos of graphic or tattoo artists making masterpieces, the kinds of artists whose processes you can take in within 30 seconds, you close the apps, tell your hyperactive heart to be silent, your racing thoughts to slow down, and you pick up your pen.
You tell yourself to stop wishing, start writing. It’s the only sensible thing left to do.