Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Writing is Hard

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Apr• 20•12

Time spent focusing on art is a privilege and a gift. The writing doesn’t make me happy, but it makes me happier, and it makes everything else easier to take. Stephen Elliot, from an essay first published in Tin House

            If you’re a writer you know that writing can be the best fun you’ll experience outside of the bedroom or hanging out with well-behaved and imaginative children who are giggle-prone.  But—and this will come as no surprise to most of you― writing is freaking hard. How hard? For some people it is childbirth hard. Attending the funeral of your dearest friend hard. Getting fired hard.

If you belong in that category of writers, this piece is written for you. If you’re the sort of writer where stories just flow, tra la la like gold pouring from your fingertips and it feels like you’ve got diamonds in your eyes, you can skip ahead.

For many of us writing is labor and some days our scratchings resemble Ingmar Bergman’s dream journals.  It’s not labor like fighting a blazing fire, or farming, or factory work, or building a road, or even cleaning the kitchen until it gleams. It’s certainly not as hard as teaching a roomful of toddlers or standing under the merciless lights in the operating room and opening up a patient’s heart and rewiring it.

despairBut it is also a tiring physical act. It will wring you dry, fry your eyes, kink your neck, and possibly ruin your sleep. Some days it will feel like you’re lying on a cold concrete cell floor and your cruel prison guard is dripping ammonia, drop by drop, onto your face. And all you can do is lie there, and struggle not to choke.

And the weird thing is that you volunteered for this prison stint, since no one forced you to be a writer.

It’s hard because it requires honesty and clarity of thought.

It’s hard because it requires such intense concentration, focus, blotting out distractions.

It’s hard because it takes so much time, the most precious commodity of our times.

It’s hard because often your friends and family don’t understand why we’re doomed, um, I mean destined to write so they whisper behind your back, or closed office door, or at parties where you appear disheveled and glassy eyed after a major rewrite.

It’s hard because sometimes editors reject your work.

It’s hard because it takes years of practice.

It’s hard because often you need to work at soul-sucking jobs that don’t allow you enough time to write.

It’s hard because it forces you to conquer your anxiety, again and again.

It’s hard because learning makes you feel like a queasy, nerdy amateur.

It’s hard because many people associate uncertainty with difficulty.

It’s hard because it takes hubris to believe that you can concoct an entire world and population out of words or bring your own past to life.

It’s hard because you need to keep deepening your analytical skills, and critical thinking.

It’s hard because language is finite.

It’s hard because many writers are not naturally disciplined, and you long to skip out on writing just as you wanted to skip out on sixth hour Biology on a fine spring afternoon when you were fifteen.

It’s hard because you strive to understand where lies mix with truth like yellow mixes with blue to become green; how confessions and secrets can be transformed into stories.

It’s hard because many writers are drama queens and love to moan about the struggle and misery of it all.

It’s hard because you can spend months working on a writing project and you finally finish it, then realize to your great horror that at worst it feels like giving birth to an ugly baby and at best that you’re emerging from a cave. Or emerging from a cave with your ugly baby. And the baby’s chances of survival don’t look good.

It’s hard because there are so many amazingly talented writers in the world who are ahead of you in the storytelling and publishing game.

It’s hard because you’ll need to sacrifice something or a lot of something in order to write.

It’s hard because the sad or jaded or lost or screwed up person inside of you might be exposed in your stories and characters.

It’s hard because the more you write, the more you learn about technique and how your techniques are not up to snuff.

It’s hard because you get wrapped up in the opinions of others.

It’s hard because you want writing to make you whole.

It’s hard because it makes your nerves raw.

It’s hard because motivation is a cold mistress.

It’s hard because your inner demons thrive when you’re writing.

It’ especially hard if you tend toward self pity and victimhood bemoaning the angst of being an artiste.  Artistes are bores and annoy most sensible people. Remember, you and I respect laborers.

So yes, even though we don’t work up a sweat plunked here at our computers, we know that writing is hard. So (no matter our gender) we’re just going to man up and face that fact. Especially if you’re one of those people who don’t hear bluebirds chirping when you sit down to write. You are not alone. There aren’t nearly enough bluebirds to go around. Many of us sit here listening to the skipping stone, fast-talking voices inside of our heads and do our best to be capable stenographers.

But let’s be proportionate, you and I. A bit of self pity and anxiety and comparing yourself with Sisyphus is normal. Bitching and moaning constantly is annoying to those around and you and procrastinating for months or years at time is neurosis or laziness. Because writing is not nearly as hard as holding your weeping daughter’s hand because she’s had a miscarriage, or insisting that your elderly parent stop driving, or facing your second round of chemo. It’s not nearly as hard as working in a chicken-processing plant or coal mine, or on a fishing boat in the Bering Strait, or serving in the military.

It’s just another kind of hard and as you know if you’re older than twelve, hard can be survived even if at times it feels as if your soul (or pride or manhood or womanhood) is shrinking. And the writing can happen word by word because you can build a writing practice that creates a river of words. And because some days the words and images come easy and things all fall into place like a Rubik’s cube.

So while facing reality, we’re going to lean toward solutions—a place not located over the rainbow, but right in your chair.

You can acknowledge the difficulties of writing, but you cannot get bogged down in them. Whenever you hear the “writing is hard” litany playing in your head, start replacing it with another version of the truth such as: writing is fun, writing is meaningful, writing is cool, and writing is me.

Because you and I are going to adopt a healthy mindset about the writing life beginning with a bit of self talk when you’re sputtering with frustration or heading toward despair.  So up with your chinny chin chin. You’ll be fine. Writing, like other parts of life is doable, survivable, and rewarding.

Try this: Think back to the hardest or crappiest job you ever worked at and how you survived it. Write about that.

Reminder: This article is owned by Jessica Page Morrell. Please no reproduction or distribution of it. Thanks.

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  1. Thanks, Jessica.
    Miss you and think of you often.
    Usually when I’m struggling over an awkward sentence.
    Or churning my brains to get a paragraph to say what I want it to.

    • jessicap says:

      Miss Chrissy,
      I miss you too. How is the writing going?
      I’m working on new projects and getting ready for Summer in Words.
      Just added raised beds to the back yard, going to plant them today. Ah spring. But then writing feels like it’s always spring, doesn’t it?

  2. Laurel says:

    This is lovely, and just what I needed today. Thank you so much, Jessica. I need to peruse the rest of your website. xo

    • jessicap says:

      Thanks for stopping by.
      I try to add new content regularly.

      • Shashank says:

        I’m extremely iiprnsed along with your writing abilities and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid subject matter or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s uncommon to see a nice weblog like this one today..

  3. Geraldine says:

    Than k you! Thank you! Thank you! Your words are so true for me and just what I needed today so thank you so very much!

  4. So many people prefer the idea of writing to the actual writing. They want to “have written”, but they don’t want to put in the work to actually write.

    Writing is wonderful — but you have to get out of your own way. No whining, no excuses, butt in chair and do it.

    We’re lucky — we love our jobs, even on the days we don’t. And there’s nothing wrong about loving your job. So don’t let those who hate their jobs but don’t have the guts to go for what they WANT punish you for loving your job.

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