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.

On Writing: Finding the Words

I always thought I would be an author. I loved reading, and I had an affinity for words. I would spend days perfecting a six line poem, finding the perfect word to say what I meant, finding the perfect layout so the visual aspect of the poem adding to the meaning. I also wrote short allegories (that masqueraded as children’s stories). But what I really wanted to do was to write a novel. So I quit my job, stocked up on paper on pens (this was pre-PC), and sat down to write the story of a love that transcended time and physical boundaries, told with sensitivity and great wisdom. To my dismay, I discovered I had an appalling writing style, little wisdom, and absolutely no talent.

Back then I thought that to be a writer, one let the words flow from mind to pen to paper, like a medium transmitting messages from the spirit world. (Puts a whole new meaning on the word medium used as a vehicle for ideas!) But few words came to me. And the ones that did come, conveyed little of the story I wanted to tell.

And then one day no words came. Gone out of my head. Kaput. I lived with that sadness until many years later when I decided that, talent or no talent, I would write. So I did. I put one word on the page and then another. To my surprise, I finished the novel, but it is so terrible that I do not include it when I count the number of books I have written. (It’s a novelized version of my life, written more as therapy than literature, with a single benefit — I no longer have any desire to put myself in any of my books.)

After that, I started to read books about writing, which depressed the heck out of me because I couldn’t understand half of what they said. Rising conflict? Show don’t tell? Beats? The information gradually seeped into my subconscious, and so I learned.

After starting my fifth novel (or sixth if one counts that first autobiographical one) I discovered the internet and so wasted my words on commenting and blogging and emails, which is why I declared October as MyNoWriMo (My Novel Writing Month.) Unlike NaNoWriMo in November, MyNoWriMo does not require me to write 50,000 words in the month. The words do not flow out of me; I have to pull them out one by one. What I do expect from MyNoWriMo is to get back into the habit of writing, to find again the joy in building a story word by word.

And it’s working. Last night, for the first time in months, I felt that excitement of being in the story. I only wrote about 500 words (typical for me) but they are good words. I can hardly wait for tonight!