Issue #64

Fall 2017

What's It Like Being a Writer?

by Paul Blaney

I'm seated in a black leather swivel chair. The chair is pulled up close to the window, one of those floor-to-ceiling glass walls, from which I can see other glass towers like mine and, 28 storeys down, people criss-crossing the street. These people wear business attire and I find that I, too, am dressed in a smart suit and tie, smart slip-on shoes.

Outside it's raining, though no raindrops streak my window. In other spots, I notice, the sun is shining, creating a nice dappled effect. I watch the people down there in the sun and the rain but my watching is not idle; I am not here simply to watch. In my lap lies a journal, open to its first blank page, and in my hand is a sharpened pencil—this is how I like to write. I am here to write.

I met the editor at a party. She was a woman I knew from college; she had read all my work and was sure I would write something wonderful. Yes, whatever I wrote she was sure to like; they all were. What could I say? I accepted the commission. And so here I am, in this swivel chair by the window, pencil gripped like a chopstick, its graphite tip poised over the paper. I look down on the street, looking for something to write. Words suggest themselves in my head, stray phrases, descriptions, but they seem not enough. Surely I need something more? I need . . . significance.

Swiveling 180 degrees in my swivel chair, I am met by a large, unfurnished office. A bare and empty box, its sides of glass and carpet and cement, the office has no means of entry or egress. There's no door. The room's sole feature hooks my roving eye: mounted on the far wall is a rhino's skull. I can tell by the horn. I find that I am holding my breath. I force myself to breathe. I force myself to look away from the ghastly trophy and then I force myself to look at it again, at the curved horn. Away and then back again.

The editor did say she might edit what I wrote, I recall that now. And I smiled and told her that would be fine—she is, after all, the editor. She was sure, she said, that I would barely need any editing. She praised my fluid style. What she didn't say, but what I know just the same, is that she might not like what I write at all. It's a possibility no one at the party mentioned—everybody so charming—but there it is just the same. It's possible that I'll write something and present it to her, that she'll read my work and purse her lips and raise her eyes, forehead creasing into a frown, that she'll shake her head and say no. Yes, that right is reserved. She'll say it's not what they were looking for—I can hear her saying it now. All a matter of taste, of course, but not for them. She'll slide my manuscript back across her desk and then . . . And then what? Why then of course I'll be killed.

Rocked by this realization, I sweep the journal from my lap. I set down my pencil and grip the arms of my chair. My fingers become claws. There is still time, a day or an hour. What does it matter? Time will not save me. I haven't turned my chair back to the window. I do not do so now. I kick off my shoes. I rise from the chair and, in my socks, pace the bare and empty office. Over to the far wall, where the rhino's skull is mounted, its cruel horn, and back to the swivel chair by the window. The rhino and the swivel chair. The rhino and the chair. Rhino and chair. No way out, or only one.

The chair is marvelously light. The floor-to-ceiling window breaks readily, willingly. Almost it seems to break before the chair strikes. Cool, moist air rocks me back on my heels, sweeps back my hair. Shards of glass, the chair too, falling. The chair turning over and over as it falls, as if to show off its every angle. Falling on and on, falling forever, unseen, as I gather the journal and pencil, as I sit cross-legged on the carpet. Moist, cool air slings my tie over my shoulder and words rise in my head. Down through my arm the words joyfully flow and stream from my supple fingers, rapidly covering the pages. Meaningful words? I do not, lest the torrent cease, pause to examine them. Orderly words? For certain, not. The right words? Who can say? Time, perhaps, will tell but time, for now, has flown the coop. There is only now, and now, and, for now, the words feel right. I trust the feeling. That's enough for now.

Author Bio


Paul Blaney is an Anglo-Irish-and-now-American fiction writer who lives in Easton, Pennsylvania and teaches at Rutgers. His novella, Handover, was published by Typhoon Press (Hong Kong). The Anchoress, another novella, and a novel, Mister Spoonface, were published by Red Button. He is currently at work on a novel, Crown of Thorns, and a series of autobiographical essays that pursue the elusive concept of Home.His short fictions, "The Restaurant" and "North & South," appeared in Issue #27 of The Cafe Irreal; "Four Short Fictions" in Issue #40 (as well as in our print anthology, The Irreal Reader: Fiction & Essays from the Cafe Irreal); "A Better Place?" in Issue #42; "Cynosure" in Issue #44; and "A Loss of Innocence" in Issue #53.