#ColgateProblems: Writing Wrongs


Amy Balmuth, Commentary Editor

Nothing makes you feel the need to reevaluate your entire life more than a blank word document. The screen stares back at you all white as if it were a 1950s Jello ad, cursor a-blink like the ’90s skate-punk band and creator of the unparalleled “All The Small Things.” You realize you need to do something to get out of this weird place, so you add your name, professor, course and the date in the top-left corner in true MLA style. Still, nothing comes to mind but your regrets from the weekend so you check Instagram and double-tap a photo captioned “Rescue Pig Meets Dog Next Door and Falls in Love.”

The prior is a phenomenon known as “writer’s block.” It does not discriminate based on grade, GPA, typed words-per-minute or the concentration of caffeine in your body. It shows no mercy; writer’s block doesn’t care if your critical analysis paper is due at 4:00 and it’s 3:26, or that the deadline for this cover letter is approaching faster than you can say “Case Printer West.” So, you stare feebly at your computer screen (or spiral notebook if you kick it old school) consoling yourself with thoughts that “this too shall pass” and “we shall overcome” the frustration of feeling intellectually inadequate.

While I struggle with writer’s block as much as the next Whitman, only recently have I been able to reason myself down from crying audible tears in my fourth floor carrel. When I was in fourth grade, I knew absolutely zero answers to my History exam on Anglo-Saxon Britain. While every kid around me seemed to be scribbling away in perfect cursive, I wracked my brain for the names of Anglo-Saxon counties to no avail. So, in a classic student move I asked to go to the bathroom, where I could at least weep in private á la Moaning Myrtle. While washing my hands, I noticed that the paper towel dispenser bore the name “Kent,” which to my good fortune happened to be one of the Anglo-Saxon counties. I sauntered back into the room with my newfound knowledge in tow and sat down at my desk to write in my answer. As soon as I crossed the “t,” I found my writing blocked once again, wishing – as I did for a large part of my youth – that I was living the reality of the teen thriller “Clockstoppers.” Without the finesse that accompanies recurring 10-page research papers, I didn’t think to slow down, breathe deep and string together verbose prose and redundant, repetitive and unwarranted sentences. Instead, I panicked and didn’t hand in my exam. I slid the paper into the Victorian-era school desk at which I was sitting and nonchalantly walked out of the room.

Naturally, this kind of behavior caught up to me. In a class of 15 students, you can’t really get away with stashing exam papers like illicit candy. My low grade on that exam taught me more than the Anglo-Saxon counties of Britain. Great works – as well as reading responses, on occasion – take time. Sometimes you write neither sins nor tragedies, sometimes you write both. Everything’s gonna be all written in the end, and if it’s not all written it’s not the end. It’s only the introduction.