I’m a natural at walking. I can stride, stroll and saunter or tramp, tread and traipse without even thinking about it. My agile mind detects upcoming obstacles and adjusts my gait to stop me from tripping over kerbs or falling down wells.
Sometimes though, when I’m out perambulating it occurs to me how complex the act of walking is. I’ve seen videos of sophisticated robots utterly confounded by a rudimentry set of steps, confused to the extent where one of them smashes its face into the floor.
And once I start thinking about what I’m doing, it becomes much more difficult. It usually starts with my arms. They start swinging too much. A moment before, when my subconscious was controlling everything, they were swinging just enough to provide me with perfect balance. Now, I have no idea how much to swing them to keep me upright so, just to be sure, I overcompensate.
This, I suddenly realise, looks ridiculous, so I stop swinging them completely and walk with my arms rigid at my sides. But this can’t be right… How do I do this normally? I have no idea.
Then working my legs becomes a problem. Should I lift my knees this high? Or kick out more with my foot? Should I be leaning further forwards? Or back?
And before I know it I’ve almost completely forgotten how to walk. Obviously I can still get to where I’m going, but now I might be walking like a gorilla or a scuba diver still wearing his flippers.
I can also speak quite fluently. In almost any conversation I find myself involved with, words flow from me in the correct sequence and my avid listener is enriched with the knowledge of almost exactly what I mean. I don’t have to think about it.
So, why, why in the name of all that is literally holy, is it so hard to write anything sensible?
I believe that it’s the walking problem. As soon as I analyse what I’m doing, as soon as I worry that my meaning might be misunderstood, I’m doomed. An easy sentence to say becomes an impossible one to write. There are too many choices, too many wrong ways of expressing myself.
A brilliant writer is like an amazing one-man-band strolling down the street, drum beating, cymbals crashing, ukelele strumming and mouth organ humming, all in perfect harmony. It looks easy and part of the audience’s delight comes from the fact that the music produced is not forced, it’s a natural product of the lithe skill of the artist.
Oh how I wish I could write like that.