Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Can real writers hate writing?

I mentioned in my previous post that I sometimes hate writing, but love "having written."

I seem to have broken some kind of sacred rule.

One commenter pointed out that those who don't love every minute of writing eventually give up. A few people in real life who read the post said the same thing to me. I know that many writing books, especially those by Anne Lamott and Stephen King, extol the virtues of the process itself, while downplaying the publication part.

Look, I've been a professional writer my entire adult life. I've had hundreds of thousands of words published in newspapers and magazines. Writing is all I've ever done. Frankly, it's probably all I can do, since I've yet to discover any additional skills.

I've also been working out at the gym for most of my adult life, as well. I do it five times a week, and I'm there for two hours (although some of that time is spent relaxing in the steam room. If you haven't tried it, don't knock it!). Many people would call me obsessed with exercise. And maybe I am.

I know that I love feeling fit and looking my best. I know that it's good for my body and my soul. And it works wonders for my creativity.

But here's a dirty little secret: I hate exercising, but I love having exercised.

Most days, I literally drag my sorry butt to the gym when I would really rather be snug in my warm bed with a cup of coffee, watching Morning Joe on MSNBC. In fact, I often spend much of the morning trying to talk myself out of actually working out, when all the while my body is already going through the motions.

For me, that's what it takes to do it with any regularity. Sure, there are days when something clicks and suddenly I'm in the groove -- in that special zone where I feel the blood pumping and it's all good. But those times are few and far between. Most days, my muscles ache and my breath gets short and later, as I sit at my desk writing, my legs cramp up and my back hurts.

You see, for me, exercising sucks. It really does. I hate it most of the time.

But I cannot fathom my life without it. I would rather die than become inactive. And therein lies the dichotomy. I have a love/hate relationship with working out. I can't live without it, so I do it because I have to.

It's the same with writing.

Most days at my desk are spent grappling with words and phrases and just trying to fashion something coherent from the shit flowing from my brain. I agonize over my writing. I really do. Sure, it sometimes flows like a rain-swollen stream, but that's just not the way it is during the actual writing process. It takes work to make writing flow like that. And some days, I can pull it off.

Some days. But most days, I can't. And that's when I hate it.

Then the following day comes, when I read back over what I wrote the previous day and revise and revise and revise. And when it's just the way I want it, I sit back and smile. Because THAT'S when it feels good.

Of course, that feeling is short-lived, because then I must start the process all over again.

And I hate it. With a passion. But I cannot fathom my life without it.

How about you? Do you REALLY love the writing process? Or are you like me, and struggle to get it just so before you can finally exhale and move on?


  1. The sentiment you're describing is very common amongst writers. It can be incredibly painful and frustrating and numerous famed scribes have commented on the fact.

  2. Of course there are times writers hate writing. Sometimes there's a plot problem or a character problem or you just can't stand to open that same friggin' document for the 9723th time.

    Sometimes you'd rather get a root canal, because at least with those you get pain killers. It's the moment that you decide to keep going DESPITE the lack of enthusiasm that you become a real writer rather than the guy who like the idea of writing.

    Real writers stick with it, just like real athletes keep practicing the same drills over and over and over.

    1. 'Real writers stick with it, just like real athletes keep practicing the same drills over and over and over.'

      Well said. Thank you.

  3. I love the flow and creativity of writing the first draft. When I only want to get the story out. (not the words, the story) It's when I go back to revise and rework THE WORDs is when I hate writing.

  4. I remember being so upset when I realized that people lied to me growing up when they told me to find a 'job you love.' No matter what your job is there are days you like it and days you hate it. The key is to find something you can still do everyday, even when you would rather stay in bed =)

  5. Absolutely I hate writing sometimes, and I think that is perfectly normal. It's the ability to persevere that matters, as you clearly already know. I do love it when I manage to get into a zone and 'wake up' with a wonderful new chapter or two, and I certainly love 'having written', but it is really hard work to write well.

  6. Okay, you made your point, and I apologize if I was one of those who expressed the fear that if you frequently hated writing, you would eventually give up. I didn't realize that you've been a professional writer for your entire adult life. I see now that you clearly will not give up. Hating the writing, at times, is just part of your process. It's not mine. There are far easier ways to earn a living, if that's what it's about, however I suspect that is not what your current gig is about. So, keep on keeping on.

  7. There are a zillion viewpoints on how the thing, any thing, should be done. If you hate to write but can't stop, by golly, do it how you gotta do it. There are as many ways to write as there are writers. If some want to wax poetic on what a blissful process it is for them, so be it. If it's a bit like raking your fingertips over the coals for you, well, stock up on band-aids and blister cream.

    Oh, and in answer to your question, for me it's cyclical- just like everything else.

  8. Hey Terry.

    As always, I can totally relate.

    Sorry it's been so long, but blogger has screwed up my blog and my domain name was somehow stolen.

    I've had to move to

    Hopefully I'll be back to blogging regularly as soon as I figure out the new program. Uggh.

  9. I agree with you.

    For me, writing's something I do. A habit. Like eating. I don't like salads but I like not gaining weight.

  10. God- I am in the middle of writing a memoir. Ahhh Trying to make all the "shit in my brain", all the notes, all the previous versions written into one. Agg It's a love hate thing for sure. :)

  11. Getting my butt in the chair is the hard part. Once I'm going, I'm usually fine, but I can find a million chores to do before I hit that chair. First drafts make this phenomenon worse. I can handle edits much better.

  12. The newness of writing wore off fast once I finished my first novel draft during the last NaNoWriMo. Writing is fun when you don't care what you're writing. When grammar is inconsequential and logic is discardable, yes, that is when writing is fun and I love it.

    I've only been writing since last year (starting with short stories and building up to novels) and I find it challenging. I didn't study it in school, I studied music. Sometimes I feel helpless, hopeless, hapless about the whole thing and want to find every shred of paper and pixel of digital type and incinerate them in a pathetically small bonfire.

    But in the moments when I am surprised or aroused or on the verge of tears, then I know that there is a reason for wrestling with the monsoon of words we call language.

    But I suppose I have yet to really dig into the editing process. When I'm on the other side, I'll let you know if I have hair left...

  13. I hate writing, yet I write. What motivates me is my faith (though sometimes horribly wavering) in the Lord and the enjoyment I get in helping people. Indeed, it sounds cheesy, and perhaps a bit delusional to some, but for me, it is the honest truth for why I live and write.

  14. I hate to's such pain. All I want to do is play. Only one delusion allows me to write...I sit at my computer and imagine a dark stranger who is holding a cocked revolver to the back of my head...if I don't write for 2 hours, the stranger will kill me...I know it's sounds weird but desperate measures are needed to hold me in my seat....when my timer goes off, signaling 2 hours have passed, then the stranger is gone...

  15. Your comparison of writing to exercising is on point! I have been working out at the gym since I was 16 years old, and playing sports since I could probably walk (I am 32 now) and it amazes me how many times I try to talk myself out of going to the gym--the same way I try to talk myself out of writing. But I have managed to continue doing both, although with much pain, agony, and sheer frustration. Exercising sucks but the rewards are what keep me going. It's the same with writing. After bleeding over my keyboard trying to complete something I started, and I read it over, I feel an immense sense of pride and achievement. But then I agonize over the next time I have to do repeat that task and so the love/hate relationship continues.

  16. Thank you so much for this post. I feel the same way. All I think about is writing, but when I sit down to do it, I don't enjoy it...until I'm done for the day (or unless the right words came along during the writing session). And I feel the same about exercise as well. My husband loves exercising--the actual DOING of it. I don't understand his type, nor do I understand the happy-writer type. And yet, I want to write. It's all I think about, and nothing else occupies me as much. I think my hatred mostly stems from perfectionism and a low tolerance for discomfort, but, as with exercise which I do regularly, once it's over, I feel accomplished and didn't know what I was so worried about. But that feeling is completely forgotten once the next writing day/exercise class comes. It's a bummer, but you've showed me that just because I don't gushingly love writing like so many tell me I should, that maybe I'm still a writer, just a different kind. Thanks!

  17. I've been writing for the past 20 years of my life (I'm 26). When I'm working on a project, I usually spent 8-16 hours a day writing, depending on the scope of the project. I've written stories as short as 900 words, novellas that range from 20-30k words, and more than a dozen novel manuscripts that range from 80k-750,000k words. I hate a vast majority of the time I spend reading, researching, taking notes, actually writing, rewriting (though rewriting is much more tolerable)...but I can't imagine doing anything else. It's a tedious, frustrating, painful, exhausting process, and I will never abandon it. It's hard, even when it's easy, just as any art form should be. To quote Tom Hanks in a great baseball film, "It's the hard that makes it great."

  18. Years later I stumble across this when I type "Can writers hate writing" into Google. Thank you for writing this as I am working on a novel and rather hating it. I read what I have written and am frankly amazed by it as it reads well. Writing it the first time around though is painful and boring. I just want to get to the end! Sounds very unromantic and I had started wondering if there was any point in continuing but I will persevere. I will finish this novel as it is a story I feel I MUST tell.

  19. Well said. Was happy to read this. Had a dream the other night where I was telling someone I hated writing. Woke up feeling a bit guilty about it.
    Also share your feelings on working out at the gym, chapter and verse.

  20. I only write when I am inspired and that is not Everyday...but almost! I think going out and experiencing life can really help...just a walk in the woods or a good prayer or meditation. I think of my life and how I can help others. Writing is not something that everyone can do. But inspiration helps Alot. I think of my family and friends. It's the simple things that truly matter. I have found that life has a way of 'speaking' to you so that you stay motivated. Plus, I have a Best Friend who constantly gives me dreams to write about who also just so happens to be my Creator.

  21. I hate writing and I don't write.Even though I should and I very well can. I guess I've decided to not be strong.