Thursday, May 05, 2016

Why is writing so difficult? No, really--why?

It's the perennial question for those of us who call ourselves "writers." We supposedly need to write as much as we need to eat and breathe. Maybe more so. We don't even care if anyone ever sees what we create, let alone likes it. (This is a lie.) Writing is our identity, our passion, our reason for being. And yet, as often as not (at least for me, so I suppose I should say the "we" is royal here), we dread sitting down to do it. We do not want to. Our inner toddler begins kicking and screaming, maybe vomiting a little for good measure. If we manage to quiet this monster--or if we can endure him or her screaming in the background--we can get something done. And then we hate what we've written.

Why is writing so hard? Why do we hate what we love so much? And is there anything we can do about this?

If I knew the answer, I would tell you. I promise. But here are a few thoughts I have at the moment.

1. Writing is exhausting.

I'm closing in on the first draft of a new novel, and instead of feeling excited and exhilarated, I feel increasingly drained. Though I'm only actually "writing" for an hour or two every day, my head buzzes continually with ideas, corrections, doubts, aha moments ... It's like the Buddhists' "monkey mind" turned into a giant gorilla and running amok. I am burning glucose in large quantities. I feel dizzy and not entirely in control. I don't really like this feeling.

2. Writing is uncertain.

In fact, like faith, it's the opposite of certainty. Even as I put a word on the page, I think, "There's a better way to say that. What is the better way? Should I say that at all? Maybe I want to say something different. What should I say instead?" If it doesn't happen right away, it will happen as soon as I stand up to make a cup of tea, or--invariably--once I turn the computer off. Related to #1, above, writing means coexisting with constant doubt. Doubt fastens itself to me, like a twin conjoined at every point from head to toe. I drag doubt around.

3. Writing is exposure.

Even if no one ever sees your work but you, putting what's in your mind onto a page or screen makes the internal external. That means it can be seen, and, worse, interpreted. Maybe I think I'm saying A, but someone else thinks I'm saying B. And B is a very bad thing, which reveals my profound incompetence, wickedness, naivete, and general fraudulence. I don't want to face these things in myself, let alone allow anyone else to discover them. Why on earth am I doing this?

4. Writing is unrewarding.

Yes, I know, writing is its own reward. So is persistence. So is growth. But wouldn't it be much nicer if, after you wrote 500 words, your computer dispensed $500 into your damp and trembling palm? Or you received 500 prestigious awards? 500 compliments? Something?

5. Writing is self-indulgent.

I also know the arguments against this one. The world needs art, the world needs novelists. Although you're not directly feeding the hungry, or building a wall around Donald Trump, you're helping to create empathy and understanding--and increasing your own capacity for both. But shouldn't I really be building that wall right now? What was I doing while the U. S. descended into fascism? Finishing my satirical novel?

From all the think pieces I've read on this very topic, I've concluded that none of these issues can be solved. Again, like a Buddhist, we must just acknowledge them and press on. It's just that it's all rather disappointing. I thought this was supposed to be fun.

Well, sometimes it is.