I can’t pinpoint exactly when I first realized writing was hard work. Probably when I decided to finish through with a story rather than let it dribble out into nothing and found myself churning cement rather than tap-dancing on the golden clouds of creativity.
The thing about most advice from writers is that it often comes from people who are already well established in their field. When one is struggling to write a decent sentence, one looks upon advice from non-struggling persons with a great deal of suspicion. What do you mean, just write? I am already doing that with regularity and still most of what comes out is, for lack of a better word, shit. My characters are constructed out of paper-mache and air; wind whistles out of their mouths instead of speech. They are puppets I manipulate for my own ends, and don’t fool anybody. Dialogue? I doubt even my mother could speak more woodenly. Scenes? All blurred and lumped together like clay. What do mean, a plot? What strange sorcery is that? Stuff just happens, someone dies, BA-da-boop. The end.
Don’t even get me started on that “writing voice” everyone keeps jabbering on about. Voice? Well, hell, my writing voice must have multiple personality disorder, because it switches and changes and flips every day, sometimes in the middle of a single sentence, leaving me glaring at the page. It is almost like something out of a horror movie – how dare you change behind my back? Oh, damn you, look, you did it again. One moment an angelic little girl, the next possessed by a sarcastic demon with an attitude. Thanks a lot.
And writing also hurts. As in, it is physically painful. Every word I hammer out likewise drills into my own heart like a stake. Again and again. Every single word I write is a flashing , neon sign crowing from the top of the mountains my inadequacy. The more I write, the more I am of the suspicion that all writers, at heart, other than wizened little creatures who babble to themselves and live inside their heads, are also masochists.
Trying to formulate your thoughts on paper in a legible, and artistically pleasing form, is like grappling with a fleshy anaconda. One moment you have it under control; the next, its twining around your neck, slowly suffocating you, or sinking its fangs into the base of your thumb. Either way, at the end of a writing session, you are left exhausted, breathless and covered in blood.
And the worst thing is when people tell young, or budding writers, that they have “plenty of time.” Plenty of time? Are you kidding me? Do you understand how much writers like to compare themselves to other writers, and how many young people are getting publishing stories and books left, right and centre? As a person who has been embroiled in an existential crisis ever since she was five years old and looked up at the moon and realized how long that hunk of rock had existed, and then calculated, in proportion, how long she existed and would exist, time is a Hell-hound yapping at my heels my friend. Yapping at everyone’s heels, for that matter.
Worst of all, being a budding writer makes you a bitter reader, as every book you pick up seems filled with flowing, beautiful and effortless prose. You are simultaneously filled with ecstasy and despair. The gap between your writing and the writing on the page seems like an unbridgeable abyss. From your pathetic little craggy mountain, you howl across the chasm, wanting so desperately to be on that other side, where goats roam freely and eagles fly and flowers grow, like, right out of the rock.
It’s enough to drive anyone over the edge. Is it any wonder that more than a few writers throughout history have been alcoholics, or gone mad? And those are only the successful ones we hear about! This is a very hazardous profession, my friend.
However, in the end, no matter how bad we think we are, no matter how much we hate our writing, no matter how shitty our hundredth piece of writing is, our thousandth, we keep on going. I’m whining like a toddler right now but you bet I’ll be hacking away at this again, same time tomorrow. Why? Apart from the fact that I apparently enjoying inflicting pain upon myself, it is because all unpublished writers, no matter how old or young, harbor hope (in other words, delusions).
We see books on shelves, in libraries, in stories, as we go about our day. We realize that behind each and every book is a person, someone who sat down at their desk and slaved away for hours on end.
We realize we want to leave a piece of ourselves behind after we die, just like them, and we realize it is possible, seeing as there are some lucky and hardworking people out there who have succeeded, human beings just like us, give or take a few ounces of talent and luck.
We realize there is nothing more we love in the world than the imagination, creativity and words, and that we love books even more than cats (which, in my case at least, is saying something).
So we write. And cry.