January 6, 2012

when writing goes splat

Yesterday, I was reminded that writing is hard.

I had a professor in college, who, on the first day of our Introduction to Creative Writing class, said, “If you can do anything other than write, go do that instead.” At the time, I didn’t really understand what he meant, and I despised him for it. Of course I could do other things. I could become a teacher or a… well, really, teaching was my Plan B. I didn't have any plans after that. To me, it didn’t matter that I could do other things, I wanted to write. Writing was my calling. 

I continued writing to spite him. I wanted to show him that I was worthy of being a writer. And even though he constantly belittled me and my writing, he made me work harder. He challenged me. By the time I left college, I came to respect him, and because of him, I am the writer that I am today. 

On that first day, he told us that writing was difficult work. He taught us that only the most committed, the most determined of us would become writers. He was right. Writing is hard. It’s no walk in the park. Not anyone can do it. Writing takes a dose of talent and a lot of practice, and it’s not always as enjoyable as we’d like it to be. Sometimes, it’s like chewing nails.

I had a strange two days of writing this week, banging out 4000 words on both days. I figured I’d ride the writing wave until it faded, and unfortunately, that happened Thursday. I hit a wall. There were nails in my mouth.

I knew that something wasn’t working. The beginning was all wrong. What I had written was good, but it didn’t fit. So I tried swapping some things around, and what I came up with was better, but it wasn’t right. I wracked my brains, trying to figure out what was wrong, and I kept going back to the plot. Something was wrong with my plot. It was a good plot, I thought. I had spent weeks drafting it, and I thought I had come up with a good one. Maybe so, but it wasn’t the right plot. 

I have a very taxing way of working. Being a perfectionist, I have to get things right the first time. I can’t just write willy-nilly and figure it out on the way because I know that method ends in tears and rage. I have to get the plot as close to right as I can before I can start writing. And even when I think I’ve done that, I hit the same brick wall I hit yesterday. I wrote two whole chapters, two good chapters, but they weren’t the chapters the book needed to begin with.

Why? I asked myself.

I still don’t know. I just know that something is wrong, and I have to fix it. 

So, now I’m spending the next few days plotting, starting from scratch. It’s maddening, but it must be done.

All this frustration reminded me that writing is no easy task. It’s hard work. But in the end, when you write a scene that makes your heart race or have a moment of epiphany about your plot, those are the moments that make writing worth it. Those are the moments that make me glad to be a writer. 

So yes, maybe it is hard. But nothing worth doing in life is ever easy.

What do you do when you find the words just aren't there?


  1. It would be nice if writing was a simple walk in the part, a breeze that sweetens a moment. But it isn't. The work that goes into being a good writer is no laughing matter. For any person thinking all it takes is slapping a few thousand words on the screen, goodness help them.

    Good luck as you trudge through the plotting so you can find that right way to make those chapters zing.

  2. I had a similar experience in college too. Except I had from all sides; friends, family, and faculty. Sadly, I decided to play safe so I'm an office lady, but I still write. Except when I can't because I just stare at the blank screen and scream at myself for not being able to transfer idea to paper.

    But yes, the hardships endured only makes to reward that much sweeter :)