When I was a young punk getting my MFA in Memoir (they have those in New York), we would go to a seedy bar near 68th and Lexington after our workshops to bemoan our existence.
“The writing is just so hard,” I would say.
Nods from my compatriots. A round of tequilas.
“And…it’s just…so painful,” I would follow up.
Nods from my compatriots. Another round of tequilas.
Each of us would take our turns lamenting the difficulties of writing. We would blame ourselves for lack of vision, our mothers for not loving us enough, our lovers for not supporting us enough, and any snide comments from absent classmates, which prevented us from becoming the Mary Karr of our generation. Then we’d spend the rest of the evening drinking ourselves into a stupor and throwing each other into cabs.
When I teach beginning writers, my students often tell me that writing is hard and painful.
And why wouldn’t they?
How-to-manuals often preface their books by telling you that writing is hard and painful.
I can remember writing teachers in my career announcing, almost prophetically, that writing is hard and painful.
And, as indicated by the example above, there is even a part of me who believes that writing is hard and painful.
But, there’s one major problem with that statement.
As much as I sometimes wish it were true, we make the writing hard and painful.
Each of us do it in our own special way, and for very particular reasons that are only known to us and the universe. Like I did when instead of going home to edit my draft after class while my notes were fresh, I told myself it was too hard and then drank enough tequila to incapacitate a horse.
Here’s the thing:
Writing is an action. Like walking, or opening a door. We do it.
And, unless you have a broken wrist or magically turn into ether, writing isn’t painful.
As an action, writing isn’t hard.
It’s your only job requirement.
Bakers bake, dancers dance, and writer’s write. It’s that simple.
When my students tell me that writing is hard, I tell them that writing is easy, it’s just figuring out how to get out of your own way that’s hard.
Once a writer gets out of their own way, regardless of where they are in the process, the writing will flow. Even editing and rewriting, which can be time consuming, can feel easeful and even pleasurable when you find the way to step aside.
When you do, the writing will write you.
Try to imagine yourself running to catch an Amtrak train. You’re lugging around too many bags, have slept through the alarm, and forgotten your ticket. In the end, you are hurling yourself towards the platform and practically throwing yourself onboard.
But once you are settled and in the sleeper car, all you have to do is succumb to the ride. There is nothing to fight and nowhere to go. You can let the movement of the train wash over you and take you wherever it is going.
And once you are on the train, how do you succumb to the ride?
Try and equate writing with pleasure and indulgence.
I try and make the experience of writing as pleasurable as possible. For many years, I wrote in the tub, sitting in hot water and lavender bubble bath with a board across my lap. I write in bed a lot. If I am at my desk, I have a strong cup of my favorite tea steeping beside me. If I get stuck, I use any tools I can to get myself back on the train. I free write, I try to find expand a section that has blank holes, or tighten a section that needs touching up. I let my instincts tell me what techniques will get the work moving and keep myself on track.
And in those moments when I’m focused on a deadline, and I’ve turned my desk to face a blank wall to avoid any distractions?
Even then, I make sure to use my favorite pen.
How about you?
How do you get in your way?
What does it look like when you succumb to the ride?