Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The agony and ecstasy of writing

by Rick Blechta

Boy, did Marianne’s post of yesterday ring a lot of bells for me.

This post’s title says it all as far as I go personally. When writing is going well, it’s very, very good, but when it’s not, it’s like a walk through my own personal hell. I’m not feeling sorry for myself, just stating a personal truth. As I continue down the writing path, the agony is clearly in the ascendancy, sad to say. Allow me to explain.

When I first began writing, it was to give my poor teaching-addled brain a respite doing something wholly different from standing at the front of a band class or ensemble, but still allowing me to be creative. I’d always loved words and I’m a good storyteller. Hey! I know…I’ll write a short story!

So I began a short story. Three hundred and seventy pages of manuscript later I realized I’d failed at crafting a short story. I say that with tongue only partially in cheek.

The lovely thing was, I’d had a whale of a time. Sure, my new baby was pretty ugly and definitely had any number of warts, but I had really enjoyed the entire process. Every evening I’d dragged my tired ass to the bedroom after getting the kids to bed, sitting down at my computer, and within moments, finding myself completely energized with the words absolutely flowing. I often woke up well after midnight, having fallen asleep over the keyboard — once finding 39 pages of d’s before the computer went to sleep too.

My second novel went the same route and the third began that way too. But partway through, things began slowing down and writing became more of a task. The process still had the same joie de vivre about it but the words certainly weren’t coming direct from God anymore.

In reality what was going on was my transition from being a complete novice to really understanding how to write. I noticed more. I self-corrected more as I went along, rather than being able to wait until the editing stage. I’d write a sentence and stare at it as it lay flatly on the page, knowing that I could do better than this. And the ideas came out more slowly, almost shyly as if they were afraid they wouldn’t measure up — and quite often they didn’t.

So now I’m at the stage where I do feel as if know what I’m doing. I’d like to think that my writing is now fully confident (if not always competent) but I’m writing more slowly than ever. Now I have days where I throw out more than I write. What remains is definitely far better than what I could craft when I first started, but to be frank, writing is more often than not a chore, something that must be endured, rather than a rush of creative joy.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy writing, but it isn’t fun any more in the way it used to be. It’s become a challenge, although one I’m still willing to meet in battle. Sometimes I even craft something that, when I read it over a day or two later, strikes me with the fact that it’s not just good, it’s really good, as in, Did I actually write that?

And that’s where the payoff is and that’s why I keep going.


Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Ha ha ha - yes, like you, I'm sometimes shocked to discover I can sometimes write a good story well, sometimes!

Reading about your younger writing self reminded me of some of my former creative writing students, who used to enthusiastically write tens of thousands of words and then think their job was done. Despite my best efforts, and unlike yourself, they never grasped that writing is about rewriting. They did not go on to be writers.

Onwards :)

Sybil Johnson said...

I'm a young'un in the writing business with 3 books and a half dozen short stories that have been published. That's pretty much everything I've written so I feel blessed that they've all found homes.

What I find interesting is that how painful a book is to write really depends on the book. The first was somewhat painful, but still fairly enjoyable, but I wrote that one over many, many years. The second was excruciatingly painful. The third fairly enjoyable. The fourth is, so far, fairly enjoyable. I'm hoping it will continue to be so.

Rick Blechta said...


Fortunately I trained as a musician, so I always have the long view in mind. Nothing is ever (well, almost never) perfect, so things must be worked and reworked and reworked.

I enjoy the editing process. My big difficulty is refraining from revising as I go along. It's sometimes nearly impossible for me to resist fixing things rather than just forging ahead and worrying about all the issue I'm leaving behind in the next go-through of the book. It's just the way I am.