“To be a writer is to sit down at one’s desk in the chill portion of every day, and to write; not waiting for the little jet of the blue flame of genius to start from the breastbone—just plain going at it, in pain and delight. To be a writer is to throw away a great deal, not to be satisfied, to type again, and then again, and once more, and over and over…”
This tough-love quote comes to us by way of Where Writers Win (a wonderful book marketing site). From a guest post, I also learned that James Joyce was said to feel that he had a “successful” writing day when he came up with three sentences that he liked. Gustave Flaubert, literary stylist extraordinaire, often labored over one page of prose for a week. That’s right: He devoted a week of his writing life to crafting 200 or so words. Every day, his writing desk was surrounded by discarded drafts.
It can be discouraging to think of so much effort expended on words that didn’t go anywhere, that led to a dead end or simply fell so flat they had to be shoveled off the page. But then again, we can take heart from learning that even accomplished writers — especially accomplished writers — like our boys Gustave, James, and John found the strength to let go of what wasn’t working.
They fully accepted, even embraced, the ebb and flow of writing. They forged ahead, “in pain and delight,” knowing that if they were in pain and just kept writing, they’d stumble upon delight and that if they had a moment of delight, it would soon be followed by more pain. And yet, they wrote on.
So often, we’re tempted to quit, to give up on a project, when the pain of working on it seems to overwhelm us. We may have made a strong start, but find ourselves stumbling in midstream. We may have taken a long detour and realized that we were just spinning our proverbial wheels. We may be struggling to pull all the elements of a fictional world together in a harmonious, convincing way.
Whatever the writing crisis we face, let’s remember that there’s delight awaiting us on the far side of pain, and that we need to experience that pain fully to find it. And when we do, we’re in the company of all the writers who endured this cycle before us. If they accepted it, so can we. If they survived it, so can we. If they out-wrote it and penned work the world loves and still remembers, so can we. So let’s all write on.