letters to a young writer (myself):

Whenever I feel like a slacker for wanting to be a writer, I remember that writing is harder than anything else I've ever done, and makes me want to rip my fingernails off with a rusty spoon.

Oh sure, there's a sensuous pleasure to it - a melodic feeling when I hit my groove and the rhythmic clacking of the keys starts to find a beat - but as one writer once said, "nobody really likes writing... they like having had written."

This is because to write - to really, really write - you've got to work at it. You have got to sit down every day, for hours, and write... whether you feel like it or not. And when you don't feel like it (which is often), there is no one there to say, "Now see here, old chap. I'm really going to have to ask you to get cracking."

Even that is not what makes it so hard, though. What makes it so hard is that it's creative, which means that while I'm doing it, there is no routine to fall into. When I was tree-planting (which was horrendously difficult work), I could lose hours and hours to the rhythms of slit-slide-pounding trees into the soil. I could rest in muscle-memory and habit.

No such luck, with writing. 

Writing - good writing - lives forever on the grating, serrated edge of new-habit formation. It burns real calories and drains me in much the same way as physical work. The habit of writing does form instincts and skills, but never the sort of muscle-memory that would allow me to check out and drift off to mental-euphorically lie on that beach in Australia. Nonetheless, there are few things in life that give me more pleasure than the hundreds of thousands of words I've arranged over the past several years, and little that excites me more than the thought of arranging a few hundred thousand more next year.

There is a temptation, inculcated in me by the warped values of my culture, to de-value the work I do as a writer - to say that until someone pays me big money for it, I'm just a self-indulgent slacker who can't handle a real job. But when I think of the glorious, sensuous tortures that lie in store for me over this next year of writing dangerously... well, I shiver with delight at the horrible, horrible struggle that awaits. It is a good and awful thing to be a Maker.

“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. … I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. … The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he has read but something that has happened to himself. That’s the true test of writing.” — Ernest Hemingway


  1. "...to check out and drift off to mental-euphorically lie on that beach in Australia" — hey, don't knock it, I've done some of my best writing on that beach! =)

  2. :) Sydney's beach-proximity is ridiculous. I'd LIVE there, if I could.


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