Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pleasure and Pain Cycle

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."

The quote (and varia) is attributed to Ernest Hemingway and legendary sports writer Red Smith, among others, but I suspect writers across the centuries could relate, whether they were using quill or keyboard.

I've been immersed in writing for the last few days, at one point so deep into reworking an essay that I looked up to find 4 hours - and lunch - had come and gone. The piece was particularly tough to start, at times it felt rather like trying to find a way into an egg. There are an infinite number of ways and places to crack the shell, and it's smooth and hard and inaccessible until you decide to break in. I finally settled down on one approach to cracking the topic and words began to flow onto paper and then to the screen.

This time 'round, I was acutely conscious of the cycle of pleasure and pain that accompanies writing for me.
  • Writing a new piece? Pain. Fear. Will I ever have a good idea again?
  • Writing the first draft, in the abstract? It's a pleasure to turn things around in my mind, to crawl through archives and jot bits onto paper.
  • Writing the first draft, as in putting actual words onto paper? Pain coupled with doubt. Do I have anything worth saying?
  • Editing a draft? Pure pleasure as I nip and tuck my thesis into place.
  • Final draft? Pain. Surely this is awful.
  • Encountering a piece months later? Pleasure. Amazement. I wrote this. Surely not!
With four different pieces headed out the door this week, there are moments when I think writing is not about opening a vein, but more like mosquitoes biting, each piece draws a bit of blood and leaves me with a welt to scratch. Pleasure. Pain. Pleasure. I itch to write.

Photo is from pietroizzo via flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Amen....I liked the way you said this: "...and it's smooth and hard and inaccessible until you decide to break in" I recognize that feeling! And time is irrelevant when I write, it is like being pulled into another world and
    I wake up and those hours are missing. Thanks for sharing part of your world....

  2. I was just thinking of the "finish" pain today! That sinking feeling when one (I) has recently finished and remembers the worst parts of what one has written-UGH! That 'send' button can sure be a downer!