On Writing

What Writing Means to Me

Writing is a craft—a solitary activity of painstaking labor. Each sentence written with heavy fingers and self-doubt. Can I even capture my stream of consciousness? Is it wise to even let the subconscious—an uncontrollable muse—take the wheel? Do I even have anything interesting to say? Am I even qualified to put pen (or keyboard) to paper? All these questions battling for attention before even hitting a single keystroke. My writing tends to be overly metaphorical, needlessly descriptive, and artificially colorful, but masters can craft simple yet captivating sentences. To embark on the journey toward mastery, I need to give writing its proper respect and amateurism its burial.

Writing is a creative act. I can play with words, structure, imagery, characters, and narrative. Metaphors, analogies, and puns are all tools in the writer’s arsenal. I can write in singsong, make unexpected comparisons to tickle the funny bone, or bore the reader to death with mechanical symmetry. So much hidden depth lies in this superbly lyrical profession.

Writing is self-entertainment. Everyone seems to be an authority on writing. I barely know what writing actually entails. I bob and weave through the flow of the piece and occasionally land jabs to set up the eventual right hook or cross. The punchy prose hopefully interests a few readers, but is that the holy grail? Ultimately, who do we write for? Is it for ourselves? Is it for an audience? I primarily write for an audience of one—myself—and when I enjoy this process I might have a shot at entertaining others as well. Not all writers will share this opinion.

Writing is an enigma. I love her. She’s a fountain of knowledge and timeless wisdom. Her sense of humor is subtle and witty—subtly witty. But, here lies the rub: my muse is bipolar and controlling. She has no respect for my schedule, goes missing for days on end, and calls me at odd hours of the day. When I’m taking a shower. She rings. When I’m heading to bed. She rings. When I’m with another woman. Ring ring ring. Sometimes she will seductively whisper her insights to me, and other times she will send me on a nonsensical treasure hunt. She has me in the palm of her hand. There’s no disobedience, only learned helplessness. I hate her. Is it fair for me to play the victim card? Maybe, it’s my fault for treating her like a mistress. Maybe, my emotional neglect is the root cause of her passive aggressive behavior. Or maybe, she’s testing the strength of our love: Will I abandon her in old age? Will I leave her if she loses her divine powers? Who knows what she thinks. 

Writing is obsession. Syntax, diction, structure, theme, style, voice, medium, purpose, audience—no stones unturned. The most agonizing part of the writing process is word choice. A word that doesn’t capture what I want to say goes through countless editing iterations. A word that doesn’t match the rhythm or tempo of the sentence sticks out like an irritating nail—my subconscious won’t rest until I hammer it down. I go through the definition, the synonyms, the antonyms, the etymology, and the collocations of that specific word, endlessly searching for nonexistent perfection.

Writing is vulnerability. Writers invite their readers into their inner world. Ideologies, prejudices, personalities, and other intimate details are on full display. Everything is revealed between the lines. There is nowhere to hide. Writing is not for the timid or evasive. To show your work to others, one needs courage. People will judge. People will criticize. People will mock. There is no guarantee of appreciation or acceptance. Writers create not because they want to, but because they must.

Writing is suffering. I only have three to four hours of solid writing in me every day; more than that, and I start to hate writing. Writers incrementally move forward—step by step, word by word—to a mirage of publishable content. Want to know whether you’re dealing with a real writer? Most likely they’ll spend more time rewriting than actually writing. Let me write that again: The essence of writing is rewriting. All my work exists in an endless editing limbo. I’m my own harshest critic. It’s never good enough. I’m never satisfied. Reading your own writing with a critical eye is tormenting. Oftentimes, the prose so dry and the content so bland you bury the piece in the deepest circles of hell. Stephen King understood the pain, “When your story is read for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” But what if I actually like the sight of my love handles in the mirror?