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.

What challenges did you face when writing your novel?

For More Deaths Than One, my first finished novel, the biggest challenge was learning how to write. Yikes. The original draft was laughably terrible. But I kept reading books on how to write, and I kept rewriting my novel, and eventually I got it right.

For A Spark of Heavenly Fire, my biggest challenge was finding the beginning of the story. I liked the story, and I kept telling myself that if people could just get through the first fifty pages they would like the story, too. Then one day it dawned on me that the solution of getting readers to see the story beyond the less than sparkling beginning was to get rid of the first fifty pages. So I junked those early chapters, wrote a new beginning, and then the real challenge began — getting it published. After two hundred rejections, I finally found a publisher, Second Wind Publishing, who loved the book.

For Daughter Am I, I had one great obstacle — me! The story came to me all in one day. Even the biggest story problem — why the gold was buried — was resolved that very night when I read a book about the war on gold. Still, even though I knew the story, it took me eleven months to write the first draft. Words come slowly to me. I’m not one who can sit down and just write what comes to mind. I have to dredge the words from somewhere deep inside.

For Light Bringer, my biggest challenge was figuring out who my not-quite-human characters were and where they came from. It was the first of my published novels to be started and the last to be finished. It took that long to discover the truth of the characters.

Here are some responses from others authors about the challenges they faced when writing their book. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with: Jeffrey Siger, Author of “Target: Tinos”

I always like to immerse my characters in what I see as significant looming issues, but  the book originally planned for a 2012 release was scooped by world events thereby requiring me to scrap it and write an entirely new one. That experience left me a bit gun shy about picking another issue to wrap my story line around. But as I’m sure happens to so many writers, when you relax and just let the keyboard pull you up, voila, magic happens.

From an interview with: Anne Lyken-Garner, Author of “Sunday’s Child”

The obvious challenge was exposing my life story. It’s not and will never be a comfortable thing to do. Once it’s out there, it can be perused by anyone and be open to mockery, disdain etc. People can judge you because they think they can analyse you now that they know so much about your life – even if they’ve never judged you in the past.

From an interview with: Sherrie Hansen, Author of Merry Go Round

The only struggle I seem to face with my writing these days is finding enough hours in the day to sit down and write. I own and operate a bed and breakfast and tea house and am a pastor’s wife. I maintain four houses. It’s a good, but very busy life, and when the day is done, I am often too exhausted to think.

From an interview with: T. C. Isbell, Author of “Southern Cross”

I’m a retired engineer. My first challenge was to learn how to not write like an engineer. My second challenge was to learn everything I missed while staring out the window during my high school English classes.

From an interview with: Linda Nance, Author of “Journey Home”

Life got in the way. When you are raising a family there are many things that make writing the book less of a priority. An almost fatal accident made existance difficult and the idea of finishing the book only a distant dream. I did not give up but when I had the story completed I could see it was still not finished. It needed more. It needed more than I could give.

I enrolled in a class at Arkansas State University and doors opened giving me a new enthusiasm I had never felt with the feeling that I could . . . I could do it. They taught me so much and they helped me to learn to learn. I have always believed that we should learn in everyday and all that we do. The class helped me to view things in more than one way and to use that in what I was working on.

So, what challenges did you face when writing your novel?

(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire http://patbertram.wordpress.com/author-questionnaire/ and follow the instruction.)

Finding Time to Write

I’ve been trying to get back into writing, but I never seem to able to find the time. There are always so many things that need to be done. Take yesterday, for example. I started out the morning answering emails. I don’t get as many emails as most people, but still, writing responses to the ones that required my attention took me over an hour.

Then I wrote a simple blog post. It was a recap of on online discussion, so it shouldn’t have taken me long, but it did. I’ve heard that people should allocate twenty minutes to updating their blogs, but somehow, my twenty-minute blogs end up taking hours. Writing is how I think, and sometimes it takes a while for the thoughts to coalesce. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right words to express the thoughts. And sometimes it takes a while to edit and copyedit the article to make sure it’s readable and that my point is clear. All those “a while”s added up to three hours yesterday.

When I finally posted the blog, I took time out for a walk and a meal, then I returned to the computer and had an email conversation with a friend who had also suffered the loss of her mate. Since she seems to have reached a place of peace, I wanted to know how she did it. I know I can go on alone since I am doing it, but the thing that still makes me feel as if I’m about to fall off the earth is that he is dead. No matter how well I do, no matter how much peace I attain, he will always be dead. Of course she had no answers for me — one person’s way of learning to live without is not the same as another’s — but she did say something that struck a chord: “the world comes back.” This was an important conversation for me, and I’m glad I had the time to spend, but still, writing my side of the exchange took a couple of hours.

I love comments on my blog, and always enjoy communicating with those who do comment, but that takes time. Yesterday evening, it took me almost an hour to write my responses.

And finally, Facebook. Need I say more? Well, maybe I do. I had several messages that required replies, discussions that needed input, updates that cried out for comments. In all, that added a couple more hours of writing to my writing time.

That’s when I realized why I have no time to write — I spend all my time writing! So, to find time to write, all I need to do is stop writing.

Making Time, Finding Time, Having the Time of Our Lives

Once upon time when I worked in retail, I noticed that whenever a day seemed to go slowly for those of us womanning the cash registers, customers would complain about how the day was dragging. Conversely, when the day seemed to fly by for us, customers would also comment on how fast the day was passing. I started taking an informal poll then, asking people if the day was moving fast or slow. With but a single exception, the days went either fast for everyone or slow for everyone, which made me think that time was variable, though somehow our bodies and artificial timekeepers managed to key into the new time speed, so there was no way of knowing that time moved at different rates.

Oddly, time is no longer variable for me. It speeds up and keeps speeding up until I wonder how twenty-four hours manage to fit into a single day. Except when I write, of course, then it seems as if time doesn’t exist.

Time is a major factor for all of us. People often ask me how I juggle promotion, writing, and offline life, but the truth is, I don’t juggle very well. I always drop a ball or two so that a single ball is kept in the air at a time. (Am I mixing metaphors?) Right now my offline life is taking precedence (nothing particularly good or bad, just work). I am doing almost no promoting, not keeping up with my discussion groups (except for this one), doing a single blog post a week, and yet all that and more used to fit into a few hours a day. Now it barely fits into a week.

So, let’s talk about time. How do you make the time to write? For those of you who are published, how do you find the time to promote? How do you make sure that you are having the time of your life when you are writing, or does it become work after awhile? If you don’t want to talk about time, feel free to talk about any aspect of writing or your writing life.

Let’s talk.

My writing group No Whine, Just Champagne will be discussing this article during a live discussion about writing and the writing life on Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 9:00pm ET. I hope you will stop by our Writing Discussion #96. If not, leave your comments here. I always enjoy seeing what you have to say.