The Wordless Writer

Written by

Collective Culture
August 3rd, 2021


By Jazmin Batey

Edited by Bobbi Adair


On a completely ordinary Thursday evening, my computer crashed. Ironically, I was running a program to safely free up space. After hours with tech support, my computer restarted. Only it was no longer my computer but simply a computer. Every file I had – screenplays, short stories, essays, resumes – all gone. Most tragic was the loss of everything in progress that I never thought to back up or email myself: long word documents of thoughts, a capacious collection of strong sentences, poetry I had written while travelling, a metaphor I wanted to remember… It was absurd to imagine that this body of work, this written history of myself, was gone. Where did it go? I imagined words disintegrating in space, breaking off and disappearing like beach sand down a shower drain, impossible to replace.

I consider myself to be a reluctant writer on the best of days. I do not write everyday. I do not even write most days. There have been long stretches of time where no writing happened apart from work emails and text messages. Even then, I certainly imagine writing everyday. I’ve built entire characters on a train ride and found the perfect plot twist while eating dinner out somewhere new. Writers have their rituals: the classic coffee order, a favourite chair, a pen you never share. My ritual is the slow burn to explosion. I knew that I only needed a spark to ignite new pages, so I was never afraid of them living in my head for so long.

I spend far more time preparing to write than ever actually writing. All through film school I had this silly to-do list when it came down to meeting a deadline: do laundry, buy Ben and Jerry’s, uncap every coloured pen I owned, and get a manicure – so I wasn’t constantly staring at chipped polish or overgrown cuticles while typing. When I was feeling extra ambitious I would make chicken soup from scratch. Something about the time spent chopping vegetables, seasoning the broth, and adding it all together was nurturing. It made me feel that if all these ingredients could come together time and time again, so would my work.

I took to playing a thunderstorm track on YouTube. I should note it wasn’t just any rain sounds but a specific video with a casual 9 hour running time. And yes, over the course of two nights I’d have listened to it completely and would need to hit replay. 

“I wish I had  given myself more time” was a thought I had all too often in school. But I was never one to pace myself. I functioned by finishing large amounts of writing in bursts. I’ve tried to trace back this habit to an origin story and maybe it’s this.

Don’t take one step until you’re ready to take all of them,” a director once told me backstage. I was 14 years old acting in a Shakespeare play. This was our final performance at a proper theatre venue, an intimidating step up from the school cafeteria where we had rehearsed for three weeks. The lights were hot. I was wearing a skirt that kissed the floor, swinging from foot to foot in uncomfortable shoes. Waiting for my cue. I was almost sure I had heard it, so I was taking baby steps towards the spotlight. “Don’t take one step until you’re ready to take all of them.” The instruction cemented me to the stage.

In so many ways I feel like I’m still there. I’ve always felt that I couldn’t write anything until I knew not just the ending, but the whole story. As if I had to form the universe entirely before I could describe a single scene. For reasons related to functioning best under pressure, I got used to being uncomfortable while writing. The late hours, the impending deadline… the angst. At the same time, I felt free during those long haul sessions. Something about the quiet of my desk after midnight opened me up in a way that a bustling Starbucks never would. I grew to crave that momentum, leaning into new ideas that rivaled the randomness of dreams.  

Arguably, I wrote my best pieces while practicing unhealthy habits. It was not uncommon for me to either stay up writing till 4:00 in the morning or set an alarm for about the same time and write until I had to go to class. Most of my work was completed right from my bed, alongside limited lighting and tangled sheets.

Although I have since changed my ways, when I lost my work, it brought about a period of reflection. What was the point of all that suffering if so much of my progress, my drafts, my accomplishments were gone? Am I even a writer if my words are gone? All I had left was a writer’s worst enemy: nothing but blank pages.

You are not what you do” is a cliche expression I’ve always struggled to agree with. Yes, fundamentally, your worth is not tied to your salary, the number of degrees you have, your publication count, etc. but writing transcends the task of putting pen to paper. The way I think about the world, my relationships, and the future has everything to do with the lens I’ve developed from countless hours creating. There is no clocking in and clocking out for writers. Even when we’re away from notebooks and laptops, the writer’s mind is constantly saving ideas and images. I had dutifully typed out many years worth of observations. So often, if I was struggling with a piece, all I had to do was lift one of these lines from the vault. Not having that option anymore feels daunting. As I write now, I find myself hovering over the backspace key, knowing the weight of lost keystrokes. 

So much of my writing career has been about pleasing a particular audience by pushing different pieces of myself to the surface. I knew what I had to morph into to fit in various spaces. There has always been a certain expectation to meet opposing expectations. Sound smart, yet approachable. Sound young, but be mature about it. Write from a woman’s perspective. Just don’t talk about feminism. Feeling like I had to be everything to everyone stopped me from appreciating everything I already was and all I was doing…it stopped me from writing.

I started writing again, in the way one would attempt to build a time machine, nostalgic and hopeful. A hot coffee beside me. Nails freshly polished. The infamous rain soundtrack playing in the background. I’ve reframed the blank pages, choosing to see them as portals. I can go anywhere from here.

Author Bio: Jazmin Batey is a passionate writer & story editor. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts at York University, majoring in Screenwriting and completing a minor in Creative Writing. Jazmin seeks out projects where stories, both fiction and true to life, sidestep clichés and are portrayed with raw authenticity. She brings her love for artistic expression to her role as Writing Coordinator on the Collective Culture team.

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