“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
– Gene Fowler
“I do not like to write. I like to have written.”
– Gloria Steinem
First, a disclosure. I always thought that “drops of blood” quote came from Red Barber. I don’t know why, but at least one or two others I’ve talked to about it thought so too, so I’m not alone. Misinformed, it seems, but not alone. Anyway, I found out it was Gene Fowler when I did a search to make sure I had the exact wording of the quote.
And that whole “like to have written,” thing? I’ve lived my life believing Dorothy Sayers said it. So I guess what I’m saying is take my “knowledge” for what it’s worth.
So why with these quotes? Well, here’s the thing. I like writing. In fact, I love writing. I love the process, the tension, the agony, the sense of accomplishment (even when a re-read dashes that sense of accomplishment into dust).
By some accounts, this makes me unusual among writers. Seems like so many writers speak of the pain and difficulty of writing. I’m not sure I can even count the number of writers who’ve echoed the quotes above as gospel. Many, many have.
Just between you and me, I think that’s a buncha hooey. I believe a lot more writers enjoy writing than seem willing to admit. After all, only a very silly person would submit him or herself to the unrelenting suffering of writing if it really was such unrelenting suffering. Sure, some people like to suffer, and a lot of those folks may very well be writers. But all of them?
By day, I’m a graphic designer, with a focus on web development and product packaging. It’s good work, something I enjoy — for the most part. Like any job, some days are better than others, but the work has kept me fed and watered for twenty-plus years. And I’ve done a lot of projects over the years of which I am very proud. I’ve had graphic design days when I just felt ON. “Look at that,” I’ve exclaimed. “Isn’t it cool?!” And clients have actually said to me, “Yeah, baby!” and given me the high five! In real life, not just in my imagination.
On the writing side, I’ve had plenty of those “drops of blood” days. Hell. I’ve had plenty of days when a drop of blood would have been nice for a change. I’m as familiar with the suffering of writing as the next guy. I’ve stared at my monitor, dull-eyed and depressed, convinced I was playing a joke on myself. I’ve produced prose drivel that would embarrass Dan Brown. And sometimes I’ve surprised myself and written something real live people actually enjoyed reading.
I love it all. My worst day writing is so much better than my best day graphic designing you might as well be comparing an orgasm to a root canal. I’ve come to crave that time when I can slip away from the day job to write like I crave my next breath.
George Orwell said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” I hesitate to disagree with Orwell, but on this one we’re gonna have to diverge. Sure, it can be exhausting, it can be draining. It’s a process that can ripple with anxiety. But, for me, it’s that wonderful kind of exhaustion I feel at the end of a great day at the beach, swimming and playing and getting sunburned. It’s the drained satisfaction I feel after a beautiful day hiking at timberline. And the anxiety? That helps me know I’m pushing my limits. It tells me there’s a chance I might even be growing a little.
Sure, I love to have written. But I’d never get there if I didn’t love the act of writing itself.
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