Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pleasure or Pain?

Ask any writer, and he or she will tell you that writing is hard work.

Sometimes it’s actually painful.

Two well-known writers (whose quotes have circulated among writers and non-writers for years) describe writing as a torture-like process, helping to fuel this notion of writing as painful:
There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. Red Smith
Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. Gene Fowler
These images of bleeding or cutting one’s self to write, to get at the truth of what one needs to say, can be daunting. If someone had told me years ago that I'd need to shed blood every time I picked up my pen, I’d never have picked up a pen in the first place.

Maybe this notion of writing as painful is why so many people find it hard to face the page.

Images like these make writing sound like a process designed to extract a confession out of the most excruciating kind of pain, and somehow we've come to believe that truth will emerge out of this horrible pain.

But there are writers who feel differently about the process.

Writing isn’t torture, nor does it involve cutting or bleeding. Instead, it’s a process of joyful discovery.

Here’s what one writer has to say:
Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. Sharon O'Brien
And another:
The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible. Vladimir Nabakov
And another:
I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. James Michener
And still another:
If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster. Isaac Asimov
Writing doesn’t need to be painful. It can actually be joyful, bringing the writer (and ultimately the reader) immense pleasure.

The search for truth doesn’t require tools to maim yourself. You don’t need to draw blood. You don’t have to cut anyone, least of all yourself.

Using a pen and paper, or a computer keyboard, you can delve into the unknown realm of your soul.

You are a diver, a mountain climber, a swimmer.

You are an explorer seeking hidden treasure.

There is a chest of riches hidden inside you.

Writing is a way to discover these riches.

At times it may prove a challenging ordeal to discover what’s hidden inside you. But that search can also prove liberating in unexpected ways.

If you’re bleeding on the page, you may want to re-think your approach to the writing process so that it’s not quite so painful, so self-lacerating.

Perhaps a change in your perspective will help you begin to understand your writing process in a different way.
But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.
George Eliot
For more on writing as pain or pleasure, visit:


mary ann rodman said...

Bruce--Every day is like hacking my way through my own personal "heart of darkness." It's release, my way of figuring out this crazy life. I find out cool stuff (and not so cool stuff) about myself, while writing fiction.
(Usually I am not smart enough to see this stuff readers and certain discerning reviewers will tell me, and I go "Hmm. Hey, yeah. THAT'S what I was writing about."
So in other words, I greet each day with a machete, whacking away what's hiding what I really mean to say.
Great blog. A keeper.

Bruce Black said...

Mary Ann--I love the image of "whacking away what's hiding what I really mean to say." It conveys a sense of the frustration that a writer can feel on days when it's not clear what's hidden in the forest. And it conveys, too, a sense of the wonder and mystery of the process of discovery. Most of all, it reminds us how much we rely on our intuition. We must have faith that something important--whatever it may be--is hiding and that we have the strength (and courage) to discover it and bring it back from our hearts. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Heather said...

I love this post. Makes me think of the Faulkner quote: “In writing, you must kill your darlings”. We "bleed" for our art then kill off our word-babies. Such painful imagery for a beautifully cathartic endeavor.

Thank you for the reminder of the pleasure of writing. :)

Bruce Black said...

Heather--Glad the post proved helpful. You're so right about the painful imagery--murder, bloodshed, bleeding for art. Where does this imagery come from, I wonder? And how can a writer move past the pain to find the pleasure in writing? Each of us has to find our own way, I guess.

Cameron Page Langford said...

"But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope,"--beautiful. Perhaps this explains why writers are pulled so powerfully, so physically to the page. It's really a beautiful thing, to write, and I love that you can delight in it. Too many blogs make it out to be an ordeal to suffer through--but that's the profession they've chosen willingly! It's an often radical life choice, and one that should be embraced and held tightly.