Schmendrick is with you: The Exasperating Truth about Writers

Writers are assumed to be gifted with communication, but that’s not the case.

We possess an intuition for language, and a compulsion to direct our emotions to the page. There, our thoughts wake up and flourish.  Then can speak in our native language, in which we aren’t always fluent with others around.

But the truth is, writers and artists often have difficulty expressing their feelings toward others in a direct, useful way. The majority of us are introverted by nature — that’ s the stereotype. But many of us have outgoing personalities, and even appear verbose and chatty. We can be excellent public speakers, even skilled in debating others into submission when a topic of our interest and passion comes up.

But people assume that just because we can shape words in those contexts, that we have them at our command at all times. That like magic, we can summon the right words to convey our meaning when most needed.

I’m great at writing e-mails, notes in a card, and letters. But saying what I truly feel in a heated conversation, when it really matters?

At those moments, my vocabulary fails me.

One of my favorite books is “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle. I identify with the cursed Schmendrick the Magician– who spends most of the book a bumbling fool. A master wizard, Nikos, mentored Schmendrick as a young man. But Nikos observed that Schmendrick’s power was not yet manifesting– and decreed thus:

It must be that you are meant to find your own way to reach your power in time; but frankly, you should live so long as that will take you. Therefore I grant it that you shall not age from this day forth, but will travel the world round and round, eternally inefficient, until at last you come to yourself and know what you are. Don’t thank me. I tremble at your doom.

Us writers are like Schmendrick– cursed and gifted simultaneously with a power we do not understand. As long as we deny our nature– as writers– we are stuck. Only when we embrace, and commit– to our identity and mastering our craft– do we truly mature and achieve.

He can conjure up cheap carnival tricks,  and recite songs and poems verbatim to distract and please the masses. Yet, he is not in control of his powers. When he tries to cast a genuine spell –of his own words– he screws it up. The words he says at that moment betray him, and the spell ends up going awry and even making things worse.

“I must have gotten the accent wrong,” he said hoarsely. He hid his hands in his cloak and tried to make his voice light. “It comes and goes.” 

Like Schmendrick, us writers may falter at the crucial moment.

We’ve experienced many times when the words we let go in haste backfired, and tumbled out all wrong. We said too much– and it was blathering anyway.

That’s the reason we need to write, why it’s the most consistent aspect of our lives– why we make sacrifices in our schedules and personal relationships to hole up alone with our keyboards or pens. We’re not trying to be neglectful or self-absorbed– it’s the only we we identify our feelings. They are a raw state until we transmit them to the page, where we recognize their true form.

And then, we may contact you. But sometimes by then, it may appear out of context, or too late. Please be patient– we’re trying. And it’s worth listening to us when we’re ready– because that is when we can actually communicate the truths that eluded us previously.

Sometimes, we’re hoping that you’ll contact us first. And if you don’t, it takes us a bit to get the courage to do it ourselves.

We may want to speak directly, if we feel very confident. But we may begin the conversation in a written form.

It may first come in a text message, or an e-mail. A letter.

For me, text messages are the worst. The medium makes me awkward, and it takes so long on my phone to type. I have to re-do it multiple times, to get the correct word or spelling– stupid auto correct! If I can’t talk in person, I’d rather talk on the phone or over a chat service than text.

But for others, text is their primary way to communicating. I have a hard time with these people, because our communication styles clash.

And when TWO writers are trying to have difficult, honest conversation? Whoa! It’s frustrating indeed.

It’ s not that we don’t have full conviction and sincerity when speaking to others. Sometimes,  we muster the perfect alchemy of  conveying exactly what is needed, in the best words, immediately.  But those moments are rare.

Especially when I feel overwhelmed, I tend to refrain from comment in real time. If I’m happy, I can show that.  If I’m angry, confused, or hurt, I will most likely not say anything at all. People may feel I’m ignoring them or shutting them out– but it’s not because I don’t want to talk to them.

Quite opposite, I’m often struggling with all my might to speak.

But sometimes, the words must come to me first before I can share them with the person who needs to hear them.

What words the magic spoke this second time, he never knew surely. They left him like eagles, and he let them go.; and when the last one was away, the emptiness rushed back with a thunderclap that threw him on his face. It happened as quickly as that. This time he knew before he picked himself up that the power had been and gone.” 

Don’t despair,  us writers are not hopeless communicators!!

It gets easier.

It helps significantly if we fully trust the person. Then we may be more likely to risk uttering words that may not be everything we want to say– because they are more likely to intuit what’s not said. Because they know us, sometimes they can fill in the blanks. It helps if it’s in- person, and there are other clues to encourage us. If we can see the person’s facial expression, body language, look into their eyes– and find reassurance that they are trying to understand us.

It helps if we write regularly, if that person we are speaking to has read our writing and expresses that they care about it.

But the more we practice, the stronger our powers grow. That’s why every professional writer mandates creating a routine for writing.

The more committed we become to the mundane practice of writing, the more likely we’ll get the words right. In the meantime, we speak words that aren’t enough and write through the awkwardness.

At the novel’s end, Schmendrick’s power surges through him, and at last, he is a true magician.

Most writers spend their lives desperate to harness that power, and some never do.

But regardless, I’ll never abandon my quest to find the true magic within my words.


2 comments on “Schmendrick is with you: The Exasperating Truth about Writers

  1. Ahh, Amee! I love this. I can totally relate – when it comes to putting words on paper, nooo problem. But in realtime, with other humans? Yikes. It often takes time (and paper) to fully understand my feelings and get them out coherently. Because I can’t get it out right verbally, I feel misunderstood. Oh, the plight of a writer/introvert!

    • Misunderstood, AMEN! Communicating with other humans is where it really gets tricky, ha! I’ve noticed this a lot more recently. I’m glad you relate, it really is frustrating!! That was really a long one, thanks for stickin’ with it. Our plight does suck, but it’s up to us to find ways to find better control over the power of language– which I believe we will both do with unrelenting zest. 🙂 One word at a time, we’ll get it!

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