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The Agony of Writing

January 25, 2015 by Diane

hand opening red curtain on white.

Here’s how it is with writing…

You agonize over the words. You wrack your brain trying to figure out how to say a thing, how to word it just right, how to spill the beans on the page in a seamless fashion. You try it six ways from Friday (or is that five ways from Sunday?) and when you read the thing in your post-writing haze, it stinks. The whole darn thing, whatever that thing is you’ve spent hours homing in on…stinks. But you don’t give up. You keep at it, banging away at the keyboard, working the pencil down to a nub, emptying the ink cartridge of your pen in your determination to get it right, to get it somewhere in the neighborhood of right.

Are you with me?

And it’s midnight, and your mind is mush, so you stagger off to bed. But your brain is still working–vroom, vroom–like a hard drive on overdrive. Behind those closed lids you’re still trying to figure out that passage, that page, that piece, your muscles straining with the effort, your body screaming: go to sleep already!

And finally, finally, you drift off.

For two hours.

At three o’clock you’re wide awake, the passage you were laboring over now pristine in your mind, the words laid out like a banquet. And the words keep coming. You know you should leap from bed and fire up the laptop and get it all down before you forget, but you lie there, your muscles begging for sleep, and vow to remember it all.

Yet you get up anyway, because you’re a writer. That’s what you do. You slog through the night, and agonize through the days. You try to force the words for hours during normal waking hours, and the whole thing comes gift-wrapped in the middle of the night with a tap on the shoulder.

And here’s the kicker…

You send it off, this piece you’ve labored over, this piece you’re proud of that you think you’ve nailed, and the feedback you get is that you’re way off base. You’re not even in the ballpark. And you call yourself a writer?

At least that’s the feedback you hear. In reality, the feedback is spot-on. But you can’t hear that now, not after two hours of sleep, not after pulling an all-dayer and giving up afternoons in the park. Your heart rises up in fury and then sinks, knowing you have a night of rewriting ahead.

And it’s back to the keyboard.

This is how it is with writing: you can’t not do it. If you’re a writer, you write. And write again. And again and again and again because it has you by the throat and won’t let go.

So, all ye writers out there: I know whereof you struggle.

And ye non-writers: sleep well, you lucky ducks.

Takeaways this week:

You’re onto the game now, so don’t agonize over the words. If you’re stuck, back away from the keyboard, put down the pencil, click off the Uni-ball Signo gel pen. You might as well get a jump-start on your sleep instead, because those elusive words will come a’ knock knock knockin’ in the middle of the night right on schedule.

When you find yourself laboring over a passage, use that as a cue that your brain is full. Be aware that you need to clear the cache. An excellent method for clearing the cache: take a shower. I don’t know what it is about standing in a tiled box with water jolting down, but it dislodges all the gunk clogging up those neurons, and ideas come faster than you can towel off.

Write, and then set the piece aside. Grab your jacket and take a walk. Sip a cup of tea. Curl up in that spot of sunshine on the window seat and take a five minute cat-nap. Then read the piece again. Don’t send it off until you’ve had a day, an hour, a space of time to review it with a clear head.



  1. Joan says:

    This is so true! The best ideas come in the middle of the night and if you don’t jot them down…it’s gone!!

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