It’s a dirty little secret in the writing world, but if you’re tackling the sort of writing that truly matters to you, there are days (or weeks, or months) when you’d rather peel off your own fingernails than return to the page. I used to be tremendously bothered by this, and didn’t want to admit to it. Varsity level crazy is no stranger to my family, and I wondered if I’d come up with my own, peculiar brand of psychosis, characterized by a compulsive desire to write and an absolute aversion to doing just that.
But after years of opting to do such things as clean the cat’s litter box from top to bottom or alphabetizing my kids’ books (a Sisyphean task if there ever was one) instead of writing, I finally summoned the courage to stare my crazy in the face. And what I’ve learned – much to my surprise – is that it makes perfect sense that the thing I love most to do in the world is oftentimes also the thing I avoid like the plague.
Maybe if there were guarantees to writing, it would be different. Maybe if every time I approached the page I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that opening my heart and taking risks and demanding my mind’s peak performance would result in the sort of writing that dreams are made of, I’d be more eager to get started. But it rarely works that way. Usually, I open my heart and take risks and demand the best my intellect has to offer and, at most, I’ll get a few piddling paragraphs. Or, I find myself daydreaming about dinner or Dubai or random thoughts that have nothing whatsoever to do with what I’m trying to write about, and instead of eking out a few piddling paragraphs, I find myself on the Internet, watching cat videos on YouTube. So much for great intentions. The wandering mind can be as mortifying as an unfiltered toddler asking questions in a crowd.
It’s no wonder, then, that when I take a deep breath and dive in with all my heart and soul because I love and revere books and beautiful writing and want to devote my all to the craft of producing them but wind up watching cat videos instead, that I’d rather crawl under a rock than rinse and repeat. But that’s exactly what a writer has to do.
Because it’s that willingness to fall flat on our faces again and again, creatively speaking, that enables us to build the wiry, spunky, creative strength that keeps us going. Great writing is the result of sustained commitment, not a flash-in-the-pan evening of flushed inspiration, despite what the movies might want us to believe. It’s boring and sometimes treacherous and frequently disappointing, but it’s also the kind of essential training we need to engage in to reach our highest goals; a training of the mind, the spirit, and the heart to engage in the painstaking work it takes to wrangle letters into a shape that approximates something true and moving about the human experience.
So yes, if you’re doing it right, you should hate your writing. But like anyone building themselves up toward something better, you can love it, too. For challenging you this much, for keeping you humble, for surprising you, for showing you your own strength, for reminding you that when you go after something that doesn’t produce immediate results, you’re demanding the most out of your particular gifts, and believing in their highest potential. So roll around on the floor and moan and groan and maybe just empty the cat box – then get back to work.
Art: The Concert, Marc Chagall