Writing is hard.
It’s a well-known fact. Anyone who’s ever sat down at a desk to write a collegiate essay knows this. Heck, a lot of famous writers have a quote or two delineating what an insanely masochistic and unpleasant process writing fiction is.
“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
— Kurt Vonnegut
“Writing is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.”
— Flannery O’Connor
“Writing makes no noise, except groans, and it can be done everywhere, and it is done alone.”
— Ursula K. Le Guin
“Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.”
— James Joyce
If these folks had trouble with writing, how the heck does anyone expect us to survive? The wannabes? The aspirants? The “struggling” writers? The unpublished scribblers dreaming of book deals, bestseller lists, and hordes of screaming fans?
I don’t know what’s happened to me. I used to enjoy writing. Or, if I didn’t enjoy it, I at least tolerated it. I would sit down, and the words would come in fits and starts at first (like a garden hose spitting and sputtering). But then a steady flow would inevitably begin, and I’d be able to finish out my day’s assigned allotment (500 or 1,000 words) in short order.
Lately, though, I just don’t have the drive or the energy. I sit and stare at the keyboard for a few seconds, type a few dozen words, get frustrated, and then click away to Quora or YouTube.
I was reflecting philosophically on this behavior (as I do) and I’ve come to a rather startling conclusion.
I actually hate writing.
Yes, yes, I know. I can see you all gasping, spitting out your tea or your espresso or your Fresca or whatever the heck you’re drinking, scaring the daylights out of your cats, throwing your hands over your mouths, and wondering, “Oh my God. Did he really just admit that?”
Well I did, suckers. I can’t stand writing. I love reading, I love English, I love words in general, but the actual process of sticking English words together into a book strangers will want to buy and read has become abhorrent to me.
I’m not sure exactly what changed. Maybe I’m getting burned out after nearly 15 years of writing (four of them serious) with no success. Maybe I’m getting frustrated because I expected writing fiction to be easier than this. Maybe I’ve lost faith in myself as a writer—almost everything I write these days feels like absolute crap, whereas in the old days it was only 70-80%. Or maybe I’m just getting older. I turn 32 this year and feel like I’ve started to “grow out” of this “silly little dream” of being a professional sci-fi novelist.
And maybe the very fact that I’m even having these feelings means I wasn’t meant to be a writer. They always say “writers write,” that they can’t imagine doing anything else, that they write because they have to or they’ll explode. But I think there’s a sub-group of writers out there exactly like me, who have tons of stories in their heads and need to get them down on paper, but loathe the process of actually getting them down. For some mothers, childbirth is an exceedingly painful but mercifully short process. For others, it’s hour after hour after hour of exhausting, wracking agony. I think it’s the same with writers.
On the chance that I’m not alone and there are actually other writers out there who feel the way I do, I’ve scoured the web and found some tips for persevering in the writing you despise so much:
Write something you would enjoy reading. I can’t stress this enough. As C.S. Lewis once said, “I wrote the books I should liked to have read.” I’ve overstepped my own capabilities as a writer in the past by trying to write things which are marketable, but not enjoyable to write. Case in point, the nascent novel I just postponed. It was a near-future work of hard science fiction, taking place on Earth (in Thailand). Interesting, yes, but not where my heart lies. The finished product probably wouldn’t be my first choice to read if someone locked me in a sci-fi bookstore overnight. I was having to do all sorts of research about soil science and marine biology and such that I really wasn’t enjoying and the writing work just…paled for me. So I hit the pause button on that project (I’ll come back to it eventually; I hate leaving things unfinished) and resumed work on my magnum opus, my 21-book soft science fantasy series that’s way more fun.
Write at the same time every day, without fail. I’d love to be able to tell you to “write when you feel like it,” but unfortunately, we all know what happens when we try that. We don’t write at all. Writing takes practice. According to Stephen King, it takes daily practice. But for those of us for whom writing is an unpleasant chore, it can be hard to find the motivation to do it on a daily basis. Writing, like any chore, is put off “until we feel like it” and doesn’t get done at all. So that’s why you should schedule your writing. Make sure to set out a block of time every day (the same time of day, if possible) to sit down and write. Whether or not you have a productive day is irrelevant: at least you sat down and tried your best for the allotted time. And who knows, after a few days or weeks, it may get easier and easier (and funner and funner) to write once you get into the mental habit of it.
Write however much (or little) you can. A thousand words a day is a fine goal to aim for. That comes out to 365,000 words a year…three to six novels! But if you hate writing, holding yourself to a thousand words every day can (again) become a chore. And like people do with most unpleasant chores, they start to find ways to put them off and skip them. So that’s why having the goal to write a thousand words a day is good, but don’t kill yourself if you don’t make it. If you only do 500-700 words a day, that’s fine. That’s still three to four novels a year. In the immortal words of Ernest Hemingway:
“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love.”
Write without any expectation of success. Perhaps one of the reasons you hate writing isn’t because you don’t enjoy it, but because it isn’t getting you anywhere. You sit down at the laptop or the typewriter and slave away for hours each day, and what have you got to show for it? Heaps of rejection slips and emails. You want to be famous and recognized and loved, and you want it now, dammit. Well, that could be what’s keeping the writing from being fun for you. If you modify your expectations, or abandon them altogether (using a little Stoic philosophy), you may find that the writing becomes fun again, and you can write without putting any unnecessary pressure on yourself to perform, complete, and sell.
Write without thinking, pausing, or correcting yourself. Are you your own harshest critic? Do you refrain from writing certain things because they seem too corny or too silly or too sappy? As you write, do you find yourself pausing frequently (as in, every other word) to make corrections or revisions? Does your spelling and grammar have to be perfect in your draft? Congratulations, chum, you’re a perfectionist. And that’s the surest way to kill your enjoyment of any task. Stop nitpicking, stop pausing, stop putting on filters and hitting the pause button every ten seconds, and WRITE. Let your unadulterated thoughts flow from your brain down through your arms and into your fingers. It doesn’t matter if what comes out on the page looks like a beatnik’s essay about an acid trip. You can fix it later. Get out of your own way and vomit your thoughts onto the page unfiltered and uncorrected. Even if it seems corny, sappy, or silly. I’m going to go back to Hemingway again:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.“
Write. Just write. Write when you feel good. Write when you feel bad. Write when it’s dark and stormy. Write when it’s sunny (but do remember to take a walk afterward). Write if you had a good workout that day. Write if you didn’t work out at all. Write poorly. Write well. Write a little. Write a lot. Write even if you hate every second of it.
Finish the damn story. It’s not going to tell itself.
You can do it.
No one else can.