Writing Is Work

Sometimes writing feels effortless—neither my fingers nor my mind grow fatigued. Instead of being painfully aware of each minute—each second—time passes without my noticing or counting. I’m somewhere else. I’m fully absorbed and reside in the process. Sometimes (rarely) I’m so engaged I forget to remember to eat. When I finally stop, it’s like waking up from a dream.

Sometimes writing is work; it’s an onerous chore. Instead of a stream of thoughts, words come in a lethargic crawl. Finding a phrase or sentence to add is like coaxing a suspicious and timid animal into eating out of my hand. Adding another paragraph is like finding a contact lens at night on the beach in the windblown sand.

Sometimes I can sit at my computer and write without ceasing. My brain doesn’t self-censor. My mind doesn’t grow weary. Once in a while a topic moves me—sets my thoughts astir, and then those thoughts set my fingers to typing more and more. I find myself lost in an idea. I write without being self-conscious or self-aware. Words become the strong current of a river carrying me forward. Instead of feeling like a beast of burden, I feel like a productive conduit.

Some days writing is simple. I get consumed by an idea, and it feeds me. I can write for hours at a time without any barriers or shackles around my thinking.

Other days writing feels futile. The task is never truly done. It’s shoveling my car out only to be buried again by a passing plow. I feel like Sisyphus—except my boulder is words, and the blank page is my mountain. Finishing a work requires starting anew. Reaching the end is finding a bare beginning too.

Sometimes writing is like skating on ice—the slightest effort propels me forward and far. Other days it’s like slogging up a muddy hill wearing flip-flops—progress is clumsy and arduous.

Sometimes writing is sitting down to a banquet—a feast of ideas for me to choose from. I feel nourished. My head is full. Other days it’s like looking at a barren landscape or searching for water at the height of a drought. Coming up with a new idea is like harvesting a field during a famine. My mind is dry and empty. It’s a well with no water to offer up.

Some days writing draws me in—attracting me like a magnet—luring me closer like the Sirens’ call. Other days I feel repelled; writing is an opposing force.

But whether it’s an endeavor I savor or suffer, whether the words ease or are eked out of me, if I refuse to abandon the effort, my work will produce something . . . eventually.

An Epileptic Frog

Some days I just don’t feel like writing. I search the horizon of my mind hopeless that I’ll find even the slightest speck of an idea to pursue. My head is empty or too full. And though my fingers feel restless, they have no coherent purpose—no expository reason to move. I am out of ideas and will never have another one again. My brain is a desert. My thought-well is empty. All that my mind can muster is worthless and trivial. Cover my writing life with a shroud; it is dead.

Some days I just don’t feel like writing. There are no interesting thoughts pressing for expression. My mind feels shallow and blank or constipated with the inconsequential. Every good thought I have belongs to someone else who already wrote it better. The only sensible thing to do is curl up on the couch and hope I fall asleep for long enough to take writing off of the day’s agenda. The thought of trying to squeeze coherent ideas into readable sentences makes my inner child want to throw a tantrum. I pound my figurative fists. I throw things—hurling insults at myself like (or as) similes. Watching you try to write is like watching an epileptic frog try to thread a needle. This is as futile as dancing to feed the hungry or drying the ocean with a paper napkin.

Some days I just don’t feel like writing. I’d rather face a firing squad than an empty document and that infernal (and smug) cursor blinking at me. I read through my collection of unfinished beginnings and systematically disown them. Procrastination’s siren song begins to bewitch me. Wouldn’t you be more inclined to write if you were rested? Perhaps you should take a nap. Better yet, watch some television. You’re probably missing something very important on Facebook. Better go online for a few minutes that can easily turn into an hour or two. Aren’t you hungry? Thirsty? Hydration is important. Now that you’ve had something to drink, shouldn’t you go to the bathroom and sit there daydreaming? Static body, stagnant mind—you should be exercising. Check your e-mail…again. Balance your checkbook. Clean the litter box. Do the cats have enough food and water in their bowls? You’d better go check and get distracted by something else in the kitchen. That white stove of yours could use a good wipe down. Maybe you could wash the dishes. There’s quite a bit of laundry to do. And since a wash load lasts only twenty-six minutes, there’s no sense in trying to do any writing in the interim. When doing chores begins to sound desirable, I know the throes of my procrastination have reached a chronic level.

Some days I just don’t feel like writing. And some days (most days, if I’m being honest) I don’t. I find other things to do. I defer. I conjure up excuses. I distract myself. I take exorbitantly gratuitous naps. I convince myself that even while my mind is otherwise preoccupied, I’m ruminating. Writing is hard work. Coming up with that first word or idea is difficult. It can bring me to the brink of despair. Facing the void, I start to consider alternative options. Is it too late to become a struggling actress? Why couldn’t I want to be something else like a veterinarian, photographer, or phlebotomist?

Some days I just don’t feel like writing. But then there are those days when (whether I want to or not) I face the blank page and wait for a word. Blinking cursor be damned! I’m facing the emptiness head on. I troll my mind for an idea—just one simple sentence that will probably get cut later on. If I can get anything down, anything at all, even just a crumb, then I can coax more out of myself like a cautious kitten that wants to come. If I persevere—if I hold on against hope and put anything on the page—then I rediscover what I’ve already learned: No mind is completely barren, even if (at first, second, or third glance) it looks empty. If I can come up with one thought and turn it into one sentence, I will inevitably write more. Sometimes the words will flow fast and fluidly, other times they’ll be sluggish and halting. I accept whatever comes—even if it leads me to write about writing.