I Hate Writing (But I Love Having Written!)

For me, writing is hell.

Take a typical week. If I start early on a Monday morning, I almost never get anything written until about 4 PM. And truthfully, I won’t really get much of quality done until maybe Tuesday afternoon.

By Wednesday, it’s usually starting to flow. And by Thursday, it’s a gusher. I think I do more real work on Thursdays than every other day combined.

It’s not that I procrastinate (although I’ve been known to do that). These days, I know to immediately unplug the Internet before even attempting any writing. And I force myself to sit in that chair for eight-plus hours a day whether it’s coming or not.

No, I just find writing fiction — at least any fiction that’s worth writing — to be really, really hard. It basically destroys me. I stew, I agonize, I obsess. It’s all about the search for the “perfect” plot point or the absolute “right” representative detail. And since, of course, there’s no such thing as “perfection,” I’m sort of doomed to this state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

If the writing’s not coming (which is about fifty percent of the time), I feel guilty and edgy and worthless. And if it is coming, I feel anxious and fearful that it’s going to stop — and, yes, dissatisfied that it’s not quite right.

Okay, sure, when it is going really well, there are these fleeting moments of euphoria, but they’re few and far between.

I always compare writing to getting a boulder rolling. It’s really, really, really hard for me to get it moving– so hard I really have to work myself up to even trying. And it’s so hard that once I get it rolling, I don’t want to stop, not until I’m done with the whole project.

This last part has served me well. I’m a pretty prolific writer and this is the reason why: my lifestyle (and my lack of kids) allows me to enter these manic “writing frenzies” where I really do just write and write and write until I finish a first draft.

Unfortunately, when my writing frenzy is over, I’m utterly exhausted. Oftentimes I get sick, and I’ve usually lost weight because I’ve forgotten to eat.

Like I said, for me, writing is hell.

I’m envious of writers like Stephen King, who writes for exactly four hours every day (even Christmas), stopping at noon. And I feel bad that I don’t do what all the writing books say I should do: keep a journal, constantly observe the world, make notes on napkins.

But when I’m not writing, I’m so not writing. I’m reading or biking or cooking or playing video games or going to plays and movies — basically, enjoying life — but I am definitely not writing. I don’t think I’ve ever once had an inspiration for anything writing-related if I’m in one of my “non-writing” phases.

I can’t just turn my creativity on and off, and it’s definitely not always running in the background, like my computer’s anti-virus program.

For me, it’s all or nothing: all-consuming or completely checked out.

But I’ve tried it the other ways. This is the only process that works for me. After twenty years of writing, the only thing that’s gotten any easier is that at least I now know that it will come eventually.

So why do I write if I hate it so much?

Well, it’s partly that I was so bull-headed as a younger writer, so determined to conquer the world, that I didn’t bother to learn any other marketable skills. Basically, writing is the only thing I know how to do that makes any real money!

But it’s more than that. While I truly hate writing, I absolutely love the feeling of having written. The sense of satisfaction and accomplishment I feel when I’ve finally finished something I’m truly proud of is overwhelming.

I’ve often wondered if non-artists feel as much satisfaction and meaning in their jobs as I do with my writing (in the end anyway). I really hope so.

And those fleeting moments of euphoria I mentioned before? I didn’t mean to gloss over them like that, because they’re amazing. In fact, they feel so good that they’re even worth all the hell I go through getting to them.

My close friends know that I’m not a religious person (at all!). But I gotta say: I find the writing process to be a transcendent experience. It’s such a rush, sacrificing everything for that elusive glimpse of infinity — and then, every now and then, getting it.

In short, I really, really hate writing. But boy, do I love having written.

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7 Responses to “I Hate Writing (But I Love Having Written!)”

  1. Walt Meyer 4 September 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    I have to say I love writing. But liken it to going to the gym or running. I hate starting–I will use almost any excuse to not have to workout, but once I am into it, I am INTO it. With writing, when there something I really want to write–like right now, the sequel to my novel–I don't have to turn off Facebook, I ignore anything when I am in the zone. I think I hit my stride and get that euphoria–the runners high where your feet no longer touch the ground sooner than you do–in less than an hour usually–but that first part is often marching through mud.

    • Brent Hartinger 4 September 2012 at 5:27 pm #

      That's funny because I also hate going to the gym. I go faithfully four times a week, but I almost NEVER enjoy it. I love having done it, but I don't experience the "runner's high" either. I think it's something in my brain. I'm lazy on some very fundamental level. :-)

  2. Liz 4 September 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    It's interesting that when you're not in your writing mode, you're not getting inspired. I'm not a writer, but I frequently see things I think need to be in a book,…but not one written by me. For example, I recently noticed the name "Cornelius Toe" on a list of students and thought, "wow, someone needs to create a character for that name and put him in a book."

    While I have my artistic side, (I like to sculpt and throw pots), I'm also a numbers nerd and believe me, it's always a thrill to finally find that one annoying error that kept your spreadsheet from balancing, so don't worry about us non-writers, we have job satisfaction too.

    • Brent Hartinger 5 September 2012 at 6:25 am #

      Ha! That is the perfect name. And that's wonderful to learn about spreadsheets. I always suspected as much. People who are unhappy in their jobs are probably in the wrong jobs….

  3. Gwen 10 September 2012 at 2:04 am #

    The feeling of never being satisfied is a familiar one. I think I'll have something good down, but then I re-read it, hate it, scrap it, rewrite it, and then have to chance everything after that because of changes in relationships, or whatever. It's very frustrating.

    But I can't turn it off. I've been writing since before I knew how to write and everything was just a scribble or dictated to Mom. I can't imagine turning it off.

    Have you ever tried working on two projects at once? I've found that if I get tired or bored of one project, working on another is a refresher.

    • Brent Hartinger 15 September 2012 at 7:04 am #

      Good suggestion. I am working on two projects at once right now. (But it's kinda killing me.) I'm one of those writers who NEEDS his down time. :-)

      Thanks for the comment.

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