Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Writing: The Most Rewarding Form of Self Torture

One of the best books I've read in the last few years is "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes. Without doing a full review, it's a book that details the fears and often intense agony writing (primarily novels/stories) can involve, with anecdotes and excerpts from famous authors and books. It's a fantastic read that I go back to often, especially since I began the process of writing my novel in January which has involved almost every emotion in the spectrum so far.

For me, coming up with ideas and plodding along through dialogue, has never been a difficult endeavor. That's not to say the story and language is brilliant-not by a long shot-but instead the words themselves just flow with ease. When I go back and re-read some of what I've written I am usually overcome with several waves of nausea, regret, embarrassment, shame and many times erupt into fits of laughter. "Did  I really describe a frolicking puppy that way??" My eyes will go over the words of a particular passage and question how I could have ever described an action as I have. What led me to choose such ridiculous words, bland colors, clich├ęd expressions? At this point I usually delete an entire paragraph and start watching You Tube videos about dumb things humans do to themselves or how to build a boat out of water bottles and twigs.

Writing can be a laborious process-of course, it's not meant to be wall to wall joy and there will be moments when the words we string together aren't the most eloquent choices we might have made. However, why does it seem that sometimes it's an exercise in utter brutality? Why are we such relentless and unforgiving critics of ourselves when often we will read someone else's work and not notice or be as bothered?


It really is no more complex than that, in my opinion. Unless we are a sociopath, it's human nature to question the brilliance, complexity and beauty of what we create. We feel inferior to others who work within our realm-in some cases justly-and our fears of criticism and exposure as a phony dominate our working minds as we soldier through various projects. Writing is often exposing an open wound to the world, revealing secrets long kept or recounting traumatic, painful events-we want to accurately if not poetically illustrate these while not making light of them. As the words hit the paper sometimes they sound trite and overused, and other times too contrived and convoluted. So, after reading and editing what we've done we begin to question everything and assure ourselves it's crap and that nobody would want to read it. Of course, considering there's a chance it IS crap and nobody would want to doesn't make the process any easier.

Let's assume, however, that the reason we all write-or at least most of us-is because we end up being fond of the results of our efforts. The story, novel, etc., we craft offers us a release and a catharsis-an outlet for those pent up feelings that have remained dormant for so many years, and it feels good to let it out. Is the pleasure worth the pain, in the end, then?


When we write, we are the architects of our world, the programmers of language and the artists who use their keystrokes to paint landscapes unlike any other that have existed on paper. Will those words be "better" than Tolkien, King, Rowling or Hemingway? In my case, highly unlikely, but they will be my words, said buy no one before me nor anyone after. When writing, we can devise character flaws, conflict, speech affects, relationships, personalities and sub plots like no one has previously. We can begin with an idea and embellish it with our own unique world view, character traits, opinions and desires and transform it into a tale that's never been told; think about the power in that. We can be the intelligent designers of our own universe.

Writing is terrifying, frustrating and torturous, but it's also euphoric, liberating and invigorating. The pain we endure while working through the process is often overwhelming but it's easily quelled by holding a finished piece of work in our hands-something we created-and knowing it's never been done before. Whether the words were always the perfect choice or the story the most compelling ever told is irrelevant because it is ours. When I finish each chapter of the novel I'm working on, I read it back, make a few notes and then lean back in my chair and grin a little, because even though it will still need tweaks and rewrites, I wrote it. Then I generally start sobbing, shotgun a beer, beat myself with a sock full of pennies as I call myself a loser, standing in my Wal-Mart sweatpants before I fall asleep curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor.

Then I get up the next day and do it all over again. I wouldn't have it any other way :)


Writing: The Most Rewarding Form of Self Torture

One of the best books I've read in the last few years is "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes. Without doing a full review, i...