On Being a Writer

woman screamingAaaaaaaaaaaah!!

To use business terminology, the line above is the Executive Summary of this blog entry. Or let’s call it an emotional summary of how it feels to be a writer. I was considering the topic of writing difficulty this week, and given my love of rigorous scientific enquiry, I did some research by talking to three people who I know personally.

The question I posed was “What is difficult about writing?” and I left the interpretation broad to see what they said. Some of the answers I got, and that I would give myself, apply to any kind of writing, some might apply to all creative writing, and some only to writing fiction. (As for writing memoires, don’t even talk to me. Memoires are for people who can’t lie.)

With the information I got from my respondents, and with my own ideas, I’ve created three categories of impediment to stop you from writing. If you write, or wish to write but don’t, you can probably add things that I don’t mention. Like what if you write about naked people and your mother reads it.

Making a Space in the World

“Getting to it is the hardest part,” one person said to me, partly for psychological reasons, but also because THE WORLD IS IN THE WAY. More than one person said this, and let me add my Amen from the front bench. Virginia Woolf alluded to this problem (in addition to the difficulty of writing as a woman) with the phrase “a room of one’s own”, having a space where you can go and work in peace.

How do we battle past all that intrudes on us? Check the kids’ homework, take the dog to the vet, fix dinner, pay bills, wash clothes, etc. etc. etc.? This battle for space to write (or to be an artist of any type, in fact) is so ubiquitous that I wonder whether it is possible to write without pushing people away and demanding time. I recall moments during marriage when I was selfish with my time. I’m not pleased to remember that I acted that way—but how do you write otherwise?

Making a Space in Your Own Head

“I have to go outside my comfort zone” to write, another interviewee said. Stopping to write was seen as being outside the flow of normal life, and it’s easier not to push against that normal flow. All humans are subject to inertia, and I’m saying Amen again, with my hand in the air. Notice, for instance, the name I gave this blog at the top of the page. I take naps.

Specific to writing a novel, the effort involved doesn’t merely feel big, or Big, or HUGE, it feels FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE. Who could write a novel? How long does that take, and…and…what if you forget stuff? What if you don’t really know why your character wants to leave home or falls in love or wants to run for political office?

I know from my own experience how hard it is to make yourself work on something that seems to go on forever, or at least for years, with no actual end in sight and no assurance that it will even get finished. The effort can go on so long (with life happening in the meantime) that most writers surely experience the predicament of having to stop for a while, and then it’s hard to go back to it, and you don’t remember what you were doing, and some of the fire may have burned out. Still, one of the writers I talked to said, that “the unfinished work often feels like a baby one cannot abandon”.

Writing While the Demons Roar Around You

Yes, fear:

  • rejection (confirming your secret belief that maybe you’re a crappy writer)
  • being compared with other writers (who will all be, guaranteed, WAY better than you)
  • the blank page—who’s not afraid of the gaping maw of nothingness?
  • not knowing enough to make the story work (doing a disservice to a good idea or beloved characters)
  • not knowing enough about punctuation, grammar, and so on (fear of looking stupid)
  • writing truthfully about painful topics

After talking to people on the idea of fear, I realized that one of the demons all writers must fight is an expectation that what gets written should be so good, so great, so uplifting and remarkable, that we know we can’t do that. So we sit back in fear of even trying.

You might think that I must not worry about showing people my crappy writing. After all, I write a blog. Of course, three or four beers help with that.


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