The Joy of Writing
It seems my posts have been a little heavy lately, so I will change things up a bit and talk about the joy of writing. Quite often I’ll read an interview with a successful writer, and am amazed when they talk about how much they hate writing. They complain about what a painful process it is, and describe their misery. James Joyce said, “Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.” I always want to ask writers who hate writing why they do it if it’s so painful. Seriously, isn’t there something out there they enjoy doing more? Why don’t they do that? Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. Thank goodness, or I’d still be a teleprompter operator.
Now, I’ll admit that writing isn’t always easy. It requires a great deal of discipline, and that’s something I struggle with. There are times that inspiration seems as rare as tolerance at a Tea Party gathering, and that’s when the mental struggles begin. Am I a fraud? Am I fooling myself? Should I find a new passion? A new dream? Is there any point to this? Yes, that is painful, but that has to do with doubts, not writing.
And honestly, that’s about as unpleasant as writing gets for me. Thankfully the joys are much more numerous. First, there’s the initial jolt of a great story dropping into your brain. For me it has come while watching a TV commercial, an interview about politics, a news article, or from an offhand comment I overhear at a table next to me. When it hits, it’s overwhelming. Conversations, reading, TV, and all thoughts of anything else are brought to a grinding halt. The brain wants to do nothing more than roll that story idea around. It’s play time!
That kernel of an idea leads to the glorious question, “What if…” What ifs are fantastic! They’re exhilirating. For someone who loves stories it’s like a kid walking into a toy store and being told they can have anything and everything they want. The mind starts running down aisles and grabbing things off the shelf. Sometimes when you get something into the cart, you realize it isn’t what you want, and it goes back on the shelf, but all the possibilities are what fill those moments with utter joy.
Eventually the cart is full of all the right things and I sit down in front of the computer. This is where the work comes in. Translating that glorious idea into words that others will enjoy is hard. There are so many things to keep in mind. What voice? Whose story? Building conflict. Changing values. Character arcs. Layers of meaning. Story structure. A satisfying conclusion. You have to juggle all the elements of a story while not losing that initial spark and inspiration of the original idea.
Hard work? Yes. As painful as enhanced interrogations? Not even close, I would imagine.
The other day I’d reached a point in the story where I really wasn’t sure what came next. I hadn’t had adequate daydreaming time to figure out exactly how the villain was going to proceed with his plans. There have been times that means I just don’t write. After all, if I don’t know what to write, what is there to write? But this day I forced myself to sit and write anyway. Granted, I did my best to procrastinate a bit, but eventually I just sat and stared at the page on the screen. I put myself into the character’s place, and imagined what I might do if I were them. Suddenly, as if dropped like a gift from the sky, it was all so obvious. Not only did it make sense to move the story forward, but I discovered an entire layer of deeper meaning to add to the theme of the book. I happily spent the next few hours putting those ideas on the page and watching them come to life. Utter joy!
Yes, it was a struggle to get there, but the joy that followed from breaking through made it seem like a minor anoyance. Perhaps that’s how women who give birth feel. Perhaps there wouldn’t be that joy if there weren’t that struggle. The joy is so much greater than the pain, and I don’t understand talented writers who say otherwise. Maybe that means I’m not as talented as they are. All I know is that I’m grateful that I have a talent and passion for something that makes me happy.
Hearing the story first is a priceless gift, transcribing it for others is a fantastic adventure. Being allowed to pursue this career – all joy.