Why the Struggle to Write?

While checking my Facebook feed yesterday, which is mostly comprised of updates by other authors, it struck me how many of them are struggling with writing. They are struggling to find the time to write. They are struggling to reach word-count goals. They are struggling to overcome writer’s block. So much struggling!

One writer posted an article about how to find the time to write, and the post had such a drill sergeant approach that it appalled me. The point of the article was that we must find time to write every day, and to do so we might have to sacrifice an outing with a friend, a trip to the movies, and other such “treats.”

Why? What is so important about writing that we need to forego time with family and friends in order to string a few words together? Truly, it is an unimportant skill. It can’t comfort a crying baby, can’t smile at a friend, can’t add another minute to a dying man’s life. It’s an inherently selfish activity since it’s about communing with ourselves. It’s also an unhealthy activity because we sit with limited motion for hours at a stretch. The hope is that ultimately others will read and understand what we write (and so understand us), and perhaps even allow us to make a living from our efforts, but still, writing is communication at one reserve. We are not sitting conversing with a loved one, and to supplant such a real conversation in the now with one in our heads seems a paltry trade.

Of course, if you have a contract that must be fulfilled, that is one thing, but if you are merely writing to satisfy yourself (and if you’re not, what’s the point of writing?) that is something completely different.

I can hear you now. “But I have to write!” If writing fulfills a need, then you don’t need to be urged to write — you are already doing it. If you have to write but don’t, then obviously, you don’t have to write. The world is not coming to an end because you are not writing. It hums along just fine without your words.

Many people do feel more in tune with themselves when writing, and why not? It’s therapeutic to let all the built-up words and pent-up emotions flow out of your head, just as blowing out a deep breath lets pent-up stress flow out of your body. And yet, for some people, such as mothers with small children and a demanding outside job, there simply is no time. To make such writers feel as if they are doing something wrong by not writing every day is unconscionable. For other people, such as those caring for a dying spouse or an aged parent, they might have the physical time but not the mental time — they might not be able to let themselves get immersed in their writing since their inattention could have disastrous results.

Nowadays, books aren’t even a physical thing — they are merely stray electrons temporarily held together by creative energy. So why the struggle to write? I truly don’t know. It seems simple to me: write, or don’t write.

For me, writing is a tool I use to help me make sense of life. It’s a means of being creative, a way of being playful, even, but writing is not life. Living is what’s important. If I don’t live, sense, experience, there’s nothing to write about. When I don’t feel like writing, I don’t struggle to overcome that feeling, and I certainly don’t let drill sergeant tactics make me feel bad about not writing every day. I know the truth: it’s not how much you write that makes you a writer, but what you say.

So I go with the flow, being me, living each day as it comes, and eventually, when the time is right, when I have something to say, I simply start writing.

19 Responses to “Why the Struggle to Write?”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Goodness, are your writer friends struggling too? I’m finally just getting somewhere with a short story I’m writing for class (most likely because it’s more literary than horror and monsters).

  2. sandy Says:

    Writing was never a struggle for me, I always carried a pencil and paper with me and kept it beside my bed so if I awoke with an idea I could easily write it down and go back to sleep. I thought of my long short stories and my short novels as jigsaw puzzles and created the pieces in nooks and crannies of time, on the bus, on a park bench while walking to work (walking always inspired ideas), Only once did I do that drill sergeant thing where you sit at a keyboard for hours at a time and the novel I wrote is the one I decided I did not want to publish, even tho it was a finalist in Midlist Publisher’s first novel contest (they sent me a ltr to say what an honor it was to be among the 4 finalists selected from the 50 selected from the original 500 entries) . . . it was something I tried, to see if I could write something “commercial” and was about the journey of a serial killer. Later after watching a TV news story about some crazy killers (rather like the Aurora Theatre killer more recently) I realized I didn’t feel right about turning that sort of subject into entertainment and destroyed the mss. The other books I wrote as a result of introspection and trying to make sense of the world, are all in print and I’m done. . . no more writing but I do coach some people who have a message they feel is important to convey and just cannot imagine sitting at a keyboard and having the words pour out in their final beginning to end order. So I suggest my jigsaw puzzle technique and that seems to help. As for the best advice I ever rec’d about writing: J.R. Salamanca (Lilith, Southern Light, Embarkation, A Sea Change, etc.) advised his students to remember that the written word carries more weight than the spoken word so be careful what kind of influence you might exert upon the reader (and this was exactly why I destroyed my story about the guy who started out killing to protect someone he cared about, then to avenge a person he cared about and eventually degenerated into killing because he could, because he was such a realistic character and someone who related to this fictional character might have felt justified killing someone in real life and that would have been a terrible thing).

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t want to perpetrate and perpetuate the whole “killer mentality,” so my villains tend to be life, though often they have a human face. Life has killed more people than any serial killer! More than that, I don’t want to steep my psyche in such thoughts. I don’t want such negativity in my life. I want writing to bring me joy, not more heavy-heartedness.

      I write from beginning to end, but I see writing as a puzzle, finding all the little pieces and putting them together to create the story. I do have one WIP, though, that I just have pieces of. I tried NaNoWriMo one year to see if I could discover wonders by just throwing out words. I didn’t, but I do have several very good scenes to use someday.

  3. Rene Miller Knudsen Says:

    I quit struggling and quit writing. I shouldn’t say I quit writing but I quit finishing what I was writing. Its not writer’s block per se but a total lack of interest. I decided to quit pushing, relax and think about writing and what I enjoyed about it. I was trying to get published. I had a book picked up by an NYC agent who shopped it to top editors in New York and I got resounding “no’s” all around. I could feel the panic of every time I wrote worrying about how marketable the book would be. That’s exhausting. I think I’m finally at a place where I can write without the demons on my shoulder and write what I enjoy.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I have a hunch the reason most books are not much fun is that the writers didn’t have much fun. Creativity is play, and it’s impossible to play when we are stressed. There is a whole culture developing around writing, and the tenets of that culture are that writers write always, that they must write a certain genre, and they must write to fulfill readers’ expectations. No wonder we are all stressed about it — no one one has a clue what readers want, not even the major publishers, or else they would not be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Write what you enjoy. I intend to.

  4. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I have plenty of time to write on the train getting to or from work. I am not one to zombie out on music though, if it came with a decent storyline and actors like in a movie, I might give it a go. Yes, I try to make sense of the world with my writing. I have realized, over time, that taking myself, the process and the writing too seriously all the time is a good way to kill stone dead any originality I might have lurking about when putting pen to paper. I get the impression that writers such as Jonathan Swift and P. G. Wodehouse chuckled every once in a while when writing their best stuff. The world can be a tragic place, for sure, but the other side of tragedy in the theatre (here I will use the English rather than American spelling) is comedy. You see the two faces represented in many theatre entrances. You also know that life and writing isn’t that black and white and a lot of material can drift between one and the other,

  5. leesis Says:

    So right Pat. I want to write, I have so many ideas its ridiculous and I’ve been guilting myself senseless for not writing. But the fact is between a new job, mothering, running the home and trying to get enough sleep there’s simply no time. Think I’ll let the guilt go…the time will come…or not :).

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Those who guilt others into writing are not doing anyone a favor. Historically, people told stories around the fire when the work was done for the day. I can’t see primal folk agonizing over not being able to tell their stories when they were busy stockpiling food. One thing we tend to forget in this era of supermarkets and department stores is that life is about basic survival. Anything beyond that is pure gravy. Your time will come, and your books will be better for having been steeped in experience. You know as well as I do that guilt is too heavy a burden to carry.

  6. Stephen Leslie France Says:

    My guilt in not writing emerges due to a purpose I intend to fulfill with my prose; the aim to teach the younger generation through fiction.

    I have been informed many times that the wisdom I possess for my age is rare and I wish to make certain that I use it for the good of others.

    That is not to say that I don’t desire appreciation for my writing, acknowledgement for the arduous task of completing a novel, or understanding, but I maintain the overall goal supporting my decision to be a writer – to help others.

    I believe Young Adult Fiction is one of the best methods to reach this age range as it is not overbearing, directly didactic and is an enjoyable way of learning.

    That said, I am attempting to learn not to punish myself for going whole weekends without writing.


    • sandy Says:

      Good for you, that is the best reason for writing fiction. I started an author’s publishing collective several years ago and part of our mission stmt was: non-fiction can make us aware of problems in society, but fiction can make us care about those problems. So I was really glad to read your comment!

      • Stephen Leslie France Says:

        Thanks very much and agreed!

        • sandy Says:

          My computer starts to overheat and make ominous noises when I try to do too much on it. Is there a place to find your stories in print (yes I know, I’m a dinosaur). I’d like to read them.

          • Stephen Leslie France Says:

            I have not made the leap yet 🙂 I am still caught at the crossroads between attempting an agent and self publishing (which I witness has risen dramatically). I have one novel complete at 90,000, and the sequel has been stuck at 20,000 words for almost three years now, but they are Word doc. and PDF.

            My attempts with agents was going well when I was in London, but I moved from the UK to the British Virgin Islands – for a new adventure – and was unable to respond to letters I had received.

            Currently, I’m building a portfolio of work on my blog to assist with the next move…


          • sandy Says:

            If you can send a word doc or PDF attachment with an email I could print it out. I never did get an agent but I have a friend who maybe could hook you up with one. If you want . . . my email is:

          • Stephen Leslie France Says:

            I certainly will as soon as possible – I’m indoors for the next month doing the whole disciplined, ‘military’ route for writing (sorry Pat), but it is something I have to make an obligation or else I won’t accomplish anything.

            Simultaneously, I enjoy the routine of self-imprisonment – I find myself a lot happier, even though it means staying in my room on the weekends and confining myself to exercise and writing.


          • Pat Bertram Says:

            Stephen, I’m not against discipline. I lead a very disciplined life when I feel like it. I just don’t see the point in suffering if you don’t have to, but clearly, you’re neither struggling nor suffering. Good for you!

          • Stephen Leslie France Says:

            No, no suffering. What would be ideal, is if I could go out, socialise, enjoy mindless fun and not feel the guilt that whispers that I should be writing – now that would be great!

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