Why Can’t I Write Whenever I Want To?

From Writer Unboxed:

In springtime, after a cold, dark winter, my teachers would fling open the windows to let fresh air flow into the schoolrooms.

Unfortunately, my school was surrounded by farmland and the fresh spring air had usually warmed up enough to bring with it the unmistakable stench of silage, that pungent slurry of fermented grasses the local farmers spread on their fields to keep the cows fed before the summer crops came in.

Amid the groans of pupils holding their sleeves to their noses, the drone of bumblebees, and the window-rattling supersonic roar of Concorde’s pilots being taught to land at the nearby airport, you could occasionally hear the frantic scratching of pens on exam papers, spring being testing season in Scotland.

I never minded taking tests.

It appealed to what I would later learn was an ADHD trait of hyper-focus, but at the time I thought of as ‘having a good short-term memory and a decent sense of how to manage my time within the 90 minute window of most tests’.

(Obviously, I was one of the cool kids…)

I loved the quiet order of the test rooms: everyone socially-distanced for intellectual purity—long before it became fashionable for health reasons.

I adored the knowledge that no one would talk or make fun of me for ‘being a swot’ or otherwise distract me until the end of the test.

Even the quiet shuffle of the invigilators haunting the aisles of the temple of learning like the ghosts of cloistered monks added to my odd sense of freedom in an exam room.

I could regurgitate hastily-memorized algebraic formulae with ease, there—so different from the panic that seized me if asked to stand at the board and talk about numbers. I could quote passages from history and biology facts by closing my eyes and remembering how they looked on the textbook page. But best of all, there was always that moment when the I turned to the part of the English paper that said “Write a short story, or essay, on…”

Of course I felt the same incipient nausea as everyone else while speed-reading the list of possible topics: how was I to fill 40 minutes writing about a trip to a new place, or imagining I had found a bottle on a beach?

The will to keep calm and carry on began to leak from the room as 99% of the pupils looked at the ceiling in despair, or scratched a few stilted lines onto the page, hoping for magic to happen.

But soon something would bubble up in my brain. Soon I was radiating enough energy to make up the deficit from everyone else: my mind full of ‘what ifs’ and kooky characters who might play in these worlds.

I began to write, as unsure as everyone else about where I was going with this idea, but with one piece of certainty tucked up my sleeve for emergencies: I knew that once I started writing some force would pluck me from the school room and transport me on landslide of words, slipping and sliding down the scree of sentences, unaware of the passing time until a sixth sense alerted me to an internal five-minute warning, and I could turn and sprint towards ‘the end’.

As uniformed bodies stumbled from the exam room, drained and demoralized, I positively bounded out into the sunny, stinky Ayrshire spring, whistling and giggling, and wondering why everyone else looked so glum.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed