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.

A Writer Blocked

Some days I can write without ceasing. Words pour from my mind as fast as I can type them up or write them down. They may not be evocative or powerful, deep or in any way profound, but they come in such a fluid way that I can float along. The words flow so fast and deep that I get lost in the process of calling them forth. I get lost in time—lost in the act of mining my mind.

Some days my brain feels depleted. I feel a mental drought. I search the desert for any thought that will inspire me—any modicum of an idea that resembles a start. On these days, instead of pouring out, words must be extracted. I am my own impediment—hyper-conscious of what I am (or am not) doing. I am a writer blocked. Stuck behind an obstacle that is within me.

These are the days when excuses crowd out ideas. Procrastination becomes my primary mode of transportation. I start trying to let myself off the hooks I installed. I start looking for loopholes in my own resolve.

But if I sit down and refuse to let myself up from the table until I’ve written the equivalent of eating my vegetables, then I’ll end up with something. This is when I remember what discipline is for. It isn’t for those days when you’re motivated and inspired. It’s for when the work looks heavy and you’re really, really tired. Discipline is for when you have to fill the pool before you can go swimming. It’s doing the work you have to do in order to start working.