Why Writing Involves Pain

What is that sound you ask? I am banging my head on my desk.  Why?  I have an addiction to pain. Life is about pain management.  Writers must have extraordinary threshold for pain. The deadlines are often too short. Editors change documents beyond recognition.

Did I mention the submission process?  There is a significant chance the proposal or draft will face rejection. Some writers collect their rejection letters. This whole process reeks of insanity. What a wonderful world. I can smell the psychological scarring.

Apparently, I am not alone in my angst toward writing. Novelist and journalist Anna Quindlen offers her take in The Agony of WritingQuindlen is a very successful columnist and has published several books. Despite this, she has to force herself to write. According to Quinlden, “I hate to write. I have to force myself every day to sit down and begin.”

She offers a method to her madness by establishing a routine. “I convinced that there are only so many words per day in the human body: if you do some longish emails and a few tweets, you feel done.”  She has developed coping skills for the craft. There so much I need to learn.

On another subject, the Pulitzer Prize Board declined to award a prize in fiction.  Novelist Ann Patchett voiced her concerns in And The Winner Isn’t.   Patchett’s essay emphasized the importance of  fiction in our society. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps. The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction. This was the year we all lost.

Georgetown Professor Maureen Corrigan offers different perspective regarding Pulitzer Prize controversy.  She served as one of the jurors that recommended books to the Pulitzer Board.  According to Corrigan, there is a flaw in the awarding the prize. There is no crisis in American literature. Corrigan offers a few recommendations to reform the process in No Decision on Fiction Prize Exposes Flaw in Process. 

Among the proposals, Corrigan suggests that the winner is selected by a plurality and not a majority. From her perspective, this would avoid gridlock. If this is not a practical solution, she  proposes that the jury (which consists of literary experts) can select the winner. The jury reviewed over 300 novels and short story collections to decide the nominees.

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108 thoughts on “Why Writing Involves Pain

  1. With the age of the Internet you are no longer at the mercy of a publisher… Go forth and write, post and let your words touch others… then when your works have been seen and loved by others the publisher’s will be getting rejection notices from you! :)

  2. I am not a professional writer though much of my ideation and phraseology has been stolen and packaged by others. This description of pain seems more about working under others’ constraints than pain of soul or experience, as per the prior comments. Have to agree that original feeling outweighs packaging. If you have a chance check for my poem alternatively titled ‘The Hand of Genius’ and ‘Three Kinds of Writing’. — DL

  3. Sometimes writing hurts, sometimes it is the last thing we want to do… and sometimes it’s so much fun and you don’t want to stop! That’s what I find, anyway. Congrats on Freshly Pressed.

  4. I feel your pain. Too often, VERY talented people go though life UN-noticed. Writing can be a lonely occupation, yet only we writers know this. Find comfort in the fact that we share this knowledge.

  5. I am a full-time freelance writer. You hear that sound? It’s the complementary sound of my head banging on my desk in response to yours. We make quite a symphony, don’t you think?
    ;)

    I’m a non-fiction writer, and I’m turning my blog into a book. It is indeed a different world now, as your commenter above (elle mental) noted. But in addition to my blog/book (which I shall henceforth call a “blook”), I send queries daily to publishers, and I receive just as many rejections as I see contracts. ‘Tis the nature of the industry, after all.

    Best of luck in your journey. Might I suggest a stylish helmet to protect the noggin? I should definitely take my own advice, too…

  6. As a contributor to my local newspaper, I know this feeling all too often. It’s even worse when you see mindless drivel be published before an essay you’ve been typing out for days. Writing is not an easy profession, but I’d argue it is the most rewarding.

  7. What a great article. I love the quote about the body only containing so many words per day and how social media/etc. eats up so many of those words leaving us tired and drained. It is so true.

  8. Oh finally, another writer who understands!
    I’m trying to become a full-fledged writer, and it’s not easy. Thanks for letting me know that someone else in this world feels the same things I do and is kind enough to put it in a blog post.

  9. Love (hate) the idea of hitting a word quota for the day. Funny, but disheartening as I often start my “writing” time with a tour of my usual sites, accounts, etc. More and more, I’m coming to see that some of the best writing advice I’ve gotten is to work on a machine which does NOT have an internet connection. Wonder if that’s one of Anna Quindlen’s coping mechanisms?

    Thanks for an entertaining – and relatable – read!

  10. I agree with Elle. Our brain juices can be squeezed to our heart’s content and the Internet is the conduit to spreading it out to the masses. I have my own blog and write every day. I don’t care if it’s published or ever obtain a Pulitzer Prize. My main and only concern is that somebody will click his mouse and read me. That’s my jubilation. Yep, go ahead and write. The Internet is waiting for you and the world is thirsty for letters, words, and thoughts. Bloggers of the world unite, we have nothing to lose but the chains of our thoughts.

  11. “Rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon — a necessary and inevitable part of every workday.”

    I was told to revise a 1,000 word essay in two days this week by an editor who neither knows nor cares that I am on deadline for five other paid assignments also competing for my time. It is what it is.

  12. Dear Sir, I enjoyed your piece and can understand what it feels like to go to bed with those writing pangs in your stomach. Well done.

  13. I’m one who stresses over a projects, agonizes because the finished product isn’t as good as I thought it was going to be when I had the idea for it, then tortures herself when I read something I think is wonderful and feel like my writing won’t live up. Then, when someone asks me why I write, I say “Because it’s fun!” Perhaps we’re all mad here.

  14. I’ve been having the worst time, I love to write, but when every day crap fills my mind that all I can get out. I haven’t had a good day, with good feeling to write about. I can’t even start writing without immediately getting interrupted. I’m going crazy too!

  15. Thanks everyone for the comments! And yes, I continue to suffering through the writing process. I still have so much to learn.

  16. Although hating to write is not one of my many afflictions, I know successful, published authors that hate to write and avoid it until the bills have to be paid.

  17. Nice post. It’s a common affliction among us writers. I think Hemingway said something like “there are few professions as difficult except for wrestling alligators.” And as the saying goes we all hate writing but all love having written. Nevertheless, we get up each day and continue to bang our head against the wall because the allure of self-expression compels us. I know, because I write about the writing life each week at thewritersrefuge.wordpress.com. Love your post.

  18. For me, it’s not the writing that involves pain, but the submission process. It really is who you know–most editors won’t even look at your submissions if they don’t know you, or know of you. It’s like trying to get a job for the first time, and being rejected because you don’t have experience; how can you get experience if you can’t get a job?

  19. I’m one of those lucky souls who love writing, however, I am cursed with also having a tremendous capacity to procrastinate, for example, by watching live eagle nest cams. However, the two activities came together lately in a totally unexpected way. A young Eaglet named Harmon got his wing stuck in the nest cup of the Minnesota Bound nest and all of a sudden 85,000-130,000 people per day were following the nest cam site as he was rescued, treated, and returned to the nest. I got so sick of having to search all over the place to figure out whether or not he was going to live or die, get back home, and be accepted or rejected by his parents that I went into a research frenzy and began compiling MN Bound and Raptor Center blogs and videos and posting them to my WordPress site every day.

    To my great shock, people started visiting my blog by the hundreds. On my busiest day I got 1,336 hits.

    Yes, it was “painful” to get up each morning and spend a lot of time putting together a decent update blog as the eagle “drama” unfolded, and it was HIGH DRAMA all round, “As the Nest Turns.”

    But that DID something to my writing that I never expected. I suddenly feel more like I can find time to write each day. If I could manage all this during my most busy part of the term at UC Irvine, when I have 39 papers a week to grade, then maybe I can actually stop using “I’m busy” or “It’s more fun to procrastinate” as an excuse not to write–and take a little of the “sting” out of the whole process of getting down to it!

  20. All my life people have told me I’m a good writer. None of them know what they are talking about. Everything I write sucks. I have to rewrite it a dozen times to get it to say something worth reading in a readable way. If my mechanic had to change the oil even just TWICE to get it right, I’d fire her. If my lawn mower needed 12 pulls every time I started it, I’d get a new one. How about that pizza shop where you have to order three days in advance because they only make every thirteenth one worth eating. See? I must be a really bad writer to take so many tries to get it right. The insane thing is that I keep doing it, going on 47 years now. Then they invented this accursed blog thing. I’m damned. Yes, I know. Some inveterate, intrepid scribbler out there is going to reply to this, “Only 12?”

  21. Who was it said, “You kill have to kill a part of yourself to write a book?”

  22. Writing is hard, much harder than lots of people actually admit. There are many days when I bang my head on the desk in agony. There are some days, too, when I am terrified of having to write words, having to use my brain to think up something brilliant (…or not).

    But I do love writing, and love having written something brilliant (…or not).

    That’s what writing is: some days it’s hard, some days it’s easy, some days you hate it, some days you can’t write enough. So let us all give a collective forehead-bang in salute to the pains of putting down words!

  23. Sylvan, I understand. Editors slice and dice my drafts all the time. Sometimes I think my writing is crap. After so many freaking rejections I need a sanity check. Why am I doing this again? Heck, I should use 12 times as a baseline to review EVERYTHING I write. : )

  24. Is it really the writing that is painful? Or is it the lack of acceptance we feel because we fear our writing will not be read? Some of each, perhaps. Most of the time I love writing, but of course, I don’t have to rely on my writing to eat. There are also days when I know I am crazy or I wouldn’t force myself to sit in front of the keyboard to write x-number of words.

  25. Haha, this is very true. I thought I loved writing but then I started to try writing a blog regularly and thus the pain began.

    I think part of it is the fact that you can never quite get what you are writing to become as good as you want it to be, something very frustrating in itself!

    Also, really enjoyed the article and some of the others in your blog :)

  26. D,

    I empathize. For a year or so after my mother passed away from melanoma I had no desire to write, and I didn’t even “force” myself to. Everything seemed, pointless. I was daunted and there didn’t seem to be a reward. But big picture thoughts came to me. My mother would never write again. Millions of people in the world who think and feel have no means by which to express themselves due to their living conditions, and I realized I had been pouting. My so called “agony” over writing was self-inflicted, and for what purpose? Why discourage myself? So I stopped. I stopped feeling agony over it and just started doing it. And since then, I haven’t been able to stop writing. I’ve been so compelled to write I started a blog, just to give myself another outlet (kevintmorales.wordpress.com). I have a play going to pre-Broadway workshop in the fall, and I’ve started my first novel. I don’t know if anyone can just flip that switch and it took a tremendous loss in my life to help me adopt this new philosophy. But I encourage you to suffer less. To make the choice to be grateful for the circumstances that allow the ability to express yourself and to find the joy in the time you can spend doing it. Don’t fret the editors and the drafts, don’t fret the rejection. Enjoy writing and your writing will be enjoyed.
    Hope this helps. No disrespect meant at all. :)

    Best,
    Kevin

  27. There was a song by a group called “The Bobs” that began, “I hate music, it’s got too many notes…”
    I hate writing. It’s got too many words. But I have to write and so I’ve learned to love what I hate. I don’t bang my head anymore. Instead I work out at the gym until I’m almost dead, then let my endorphins drive me home. I’ve had 4 books and lots of articles published over the years. But the process has never gotten easier. God I love to write (maniacal laugh).

  28. I agree that trying to get published is a grueling task; you feel like a leper who aspires to be a supermodel. And sticking to a story, whether as a reader or a writer, is a challenge in our blink-and-you’ll-miss-it world. Two things that help me write more creatively, at least to some extent, are meditation and trying to stick to reading fiction or poetry versus nonfiction. As a good friend of mine who also dreamed of being a novelist once told me long ago, back when I was caught up being a political junkie, “Reading nonfiction might help you rant, but it won’t help you write.” (Of course, if you have a blog, you can get away with doing both!) Finally, I think you’ve got to write to please yourself; if you can learn how to have fun while you’re writing, you have a better chance of finding–or keeping–an audience. Thanks a lot for the post.

  29. Sometimes I have the audacity, however only briefly, to think the first draft of a poem is actually pretty darn good. And sometimes I wish I was writing on paper rather than on my laptop so I could scrunch the whole lot up and use them for wastepaper basketball… yeah, I know what you mean. Echo…

  30. I thought it was just me, but I now have confirmation that there are just so many words the human brain is capable of. Personally I use the set time method to sit down and write. It gives me an excuse to go ride the horse.check e-mail, check the weather, check anything but. :)

  31. Writing is not hard at all. Writing well is the problem. Writing is just the physical manifestation of one’s thoughts. So, yeah, thinking straight, in a way that other people can follow you clearly is very difficult. I remember having a conversation with my English professor, telling her how much trouble I was having with my writing, and she said to me, “That’s the sign of a good writer.”
    Small consolation. But you wouldn’t have it any other way, would you? If writing comes easy for you, you probably don’t know what you’re doing. Or you’re a genius. I leave you with a quote from Mark Twain.

    The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say. ~Mark Twain

  32. Reading your blog has motivated me to set a “writing schedule” – thanks for sharing. Great blog! Very informative. As writers we need to read, it motivates us, inspires us and kicks our thought process and our imagination into high gear. As writers we should stay away from t.v., it sucks out all motivation like a body snatcher. Except for Masterpiece Theatre, A&E, Discovery and Animal Planet of course.

  33. Nice article. Writing can indeed be painful, literally and figuratively speaking. :) Aside from the head banging, you also have to endure writer’s block! Ugh! Anyway… glad to know that I’m not alone.

    To all writers out there, keep those words coming… :)

  34. I’ve found that when I force myself to write, I usually write crap. Several hours or usually days later I understand the reason it is crap. Then i rewrite it creating something worth reading. Writing the crap is necessary.

  35. Excellent post. I like writing. And I am writing all the time.
    I appreciate your efforts behind that. Have a great day!

  36. I had no idea I’m not the only one who collects my rejection letters. And now, as I read this blog at 11:25 pm, while avoiding writing a piece that I need to submit in a few hours, I learn that my rejection letter hoarding behavior is symptom of my inner writerly trauma.

  37. If you are not writing because you just have to. Because you simply must. Because if you do not do it your soul will die (like any other artist), well, then, you are just a person who should be doing something else. So go do that something else and leave the rest of us to our passion.

    Stop whining and kvetching over yourselves, you self-involved narcissists. Which is, in fact, to whom all main stream “prizes” cater to.

    Shuddup already. You bore the rest of us.

    I had a friend once who handed me a beautiful piece of thick, tumeric-colored paper. On it, he had written four simple words.

    “What gives you life?”

  38. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    Apart from the obvious “pain” that comes with the business of getting published and promoted as a writer, there is a great deal of pain that the writer goes through in the actual writing process itself. This intensity varies with genre. For instance, because I tend to write more reflective and introspective nonfictional essays and poetry, I almost always have to do a lot of the personal work of confronting my real fears and insecurities (as I’m writing, no less), as well as those experiences that inform my writing. I suppose in a sense, it’s as therapeutic as it is painful, becoming it’s own medicine. I find that once I release what lies beneath, any other validation/ publication/ promotion would be icing on the cake. :)

    Best of luck to you!

  39. “Writing Involves Pain”

    ’nuff said! I must say though, some of my best writing comes when under heavy pressure from deadlines, so much of the stress I receive may in fact be healthy for my writing process (just not my physical healthy). ;)

  40. Several of these comments reminded me of one of my favorite quotes of all time. I came across it in a writing magazine years ago, and the creator was listed as “anonymous.” But without question, he was most definitely a professional writer: “Done is better than perfect. Sometime after the 10th revision, you have to let it go.”

  41. Great post.
    Mostly the internet offers sugar coated cheers when it comes to writing advice and to a novice like me just out of school, it can be frustrating when I think I’m the only one who loves but at the same time hates to write. Sometimes I just wish that the words and worlds in my head would just appear on paper :(
    That said, my new motto is writing to express instead of impress and so far it has helped me out.
    Congrats on the Freshly Pressed and thank you for this post.

  42. Yeah, it is definitely hard to start the writing process, and it sucks to get rejected. But that happens. I think even the most torn up writer enjoys it with a shit-eating grin.

  43. I am so glad others feel like this. I have seen many strange looks when I say “Writing is painful.” My favorite way to put it is “No one likes to write. They like to have written.” Kristilyn

  44. This article voices my heartbeat. It is painful to write. But I guess we all enjoy that pain. It is like a labour pain. When the write-up is born and accepted by the world, it is a joy and we forget the pain.

  45. This blog post was so encouraging! I want more than anything to be a writer. I have to make myself write as well. And most days I do not feel that I have anything worth writing about. I’m so glad that I am not alone!

  46. Loved this! I do relate for the most part. I love writing and have been doing to for a while. But just recently I have began putting it out in public. On the other hand I also start many pieces and never finish them. My procrastination is awful! I have not experienced much rejection yet. I guess I have been lucky so far. I know as I put my stuff out there more that I may begin to develop a pile of rejection letters. You can read my blog at http://lifehurtsgodheals.wordpress.com

  47. je crois quel’écriture est simplement passionnelle, non réductible à la rationalité et au consumériste, c’est pour cela qu’il y a débat et combat !

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  49. I’m not a headbanger, but my laptop is full of started and stopped efforts. What kills me is that I look back at them and they’re *excellent.* They are quarters and thirds of fabulous books that have been stopped, or taken in four different directions, or combined with other literary abortions. I’m like a Victor Frankenstein of writing, only my creations never got off the slab.

  50. I wish to be a fiction writer someday. But for now, I’m a non-fiction writer and I really find it a lot harder than imaginable to write. However, I’m a blog addict. I can sit down and write new posts every day. Recently I realized that when I’m forced to write, I suck. But when I’m writing just to cheer myself up or self enjoyment, such as in my personal blog, I feel comfortable.

  51. You gave me quite a bit to think about. I love to write, and now that I am trying to do it professionally I see the technical and business side of it – while I love the art form. Then again I guess you experience this with lots of jobs you love – there’s always an element or elements that you absolutelty hate. Hang in there!

  52. Well-written! Enjoyed the thoughtful description of how the writing process goes…doing a blog is sort of like writing…but not so painful??? I have tried to learn how many words people will read in a blog before they click somewhere else…my not-so-scientific approach tells me about 700 words…if they are well-written, maybe 300 more…then you plug in pictures…a whole new thing, that is not writing! Glad to see a WordPress item that is really writing…not just pictures!

  53. You write because you have to write. It is a calling from deep within the soul that forces you to endure the pain. But there is also a deep healing that comes from writing that I have experienced when I finished my memoir. It is like giving birth. You experience the pain of the experience and afterward, you also are rewarded for your accomplishment Aloha

  54. The only way to truly like writing is when you do it for yourself … once others have to read it it becomes a headache … But I think it is worth it :-)

  55. If writing is just another job its got to be having its own Gods and Demons…..which I think isn’t the case. Writing is as sacred as realising and discovering your own truth and beauty of it lies in helps you find it first hand.

  56. I’m just started my blogging to enhance my skills in writing and i felt that I love to write , I want to share something to my readers they can get a lesson from my stories. I really tried to overcome my fears and to develop my confidence in writing, your passion in writing is your strength and there is pain if we cannot able to make a story what we really wanted to come out, the whole picture of the story because were interrupted and there’s always a struggle when we write a story.

  57. Yes! There’s a writer in me somewhere, I want there to be… but yes, it’s the most difficult thing. I’m in my final semester of university and I have a Creative Writing: Drama module, I’m majorly running out of time for it but I’m still stuck on my idea. I have to ring my tutor tomorrow. Worry worry worry.
    Lovely piece, and any advice on where to get writing experience afterwards?

  58. I only write a humble blog, but I’ve had a quote from Thomas Mann in my wallet for years. It’s starting to fall apart. It says: A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for others. That sums it up for me.

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  60. from personal experience writing is the pleasurable bit; it’s when you enter the murky world of publishing, getting reviews or just getting noticed that you feel you are up against a brick wall or trying to pick up a poorly set jelly with your bare hands… what if I change my author’s name to Wayne Rooney, or David Cameron or even Barack Obama? Think that’ll work??

  61. Writing is fun and relaxing as long as you are not under pressure. Competition and free-lance writing make it so streneous. The calmer you are, the better you write. No one is able to write well under pressure. All we need is a sponsor who is very patient and just loves what we write. Do you know any?

    Writing makes me feel good, provides a sense of art and creation and makes other people think, maybe the only way to make them think if they are into reading. I enjoy reading blogs like yours as much as I enjoy writing.

    Thank you

  62. Writing indeed isn’t easy, but I would not say is painful.
    Though it took me a long time to sit down and start my own blog.
    Since than I am always keeping with me a small notebook just in case I will get inspired and feel eager to put my thought on paper.
    That is also a way to prepare your self for any article / editorial work you need to face it… good luck

    http://dreamjobdiva.wordpress.com/

  63. sometime I have absolutely no idea what to write, other times I write and reading it is painful, but somehow, not writing feels worse. Yet I never want to “not” write. It’s like, if I don’t write it down, then it doesn’t exist. Know what I mean?

  64. A writer who takes pain in writing gives less pain to readers. Pain is part of the process, it’s up to writers to bear it upfront or leave it for the readers. :)

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