I stare at the vast emptiness of my computer screen. I can feel the panic hovering somewhere in the pit of my stomach just waiting for the slightest excuse to pounce.
I have something to write; I have a topic and the information; I have a deadline. The words dance just outside my reach, taunting me. My internal cry of frustration manifests as a physical grunt.
Even with decades of writing experience under my belt, I still face panic, avoidance, and angst when writing. Writing well may not be rocket science, but it is difficult. Why?
I’ve been asking myself that for a long time. Here are some answers I’ve come up with.
The ‘Bleeding’ Essay Paper
I think I was traumatized by all those English assignments my teachers marked up in red. My errors were out there, highlighted like neon signs for all to see. No one likes to have her mistakes broadcast to the world. (Well, that was the way I saw it when I was in school!)
It took me years to understand those marks helped me avoid making the same mistakes in the future. They were feedback. Yet I still suffer the vestiges of shame and disappointment.
Logic in an Artistic Brain
I don’t pretend to be overly logical. I have to work hard – very hard – at being organized. Writing, even creative writing, requires organization. Unless we’re talking about stream-of-consciousness writing (which is a tough read), writing needs to be organized so other people can understand it.
Luckily, years of practice have made the organization process easier, but it is still an effort.
The Do-over – and Over
I detest having to re-do things because they weren’t done right the first time. I tell myself I dislike inefficiency, but the truth is that I’m lazy that way. It could be why I don’t like housework.
This attitude carries over into my writing. Yes, I know revision is a vital part of the writing process, but that doesn’t stop me from expecting my writing to come out perfect first time, every time. It ain’t gonna happen!
I’ve half convinced myself to look at revision as if I were working on a bonsai tree: a little snip here, a trim there, a tie-down back there, and lots of patience resulting in a thing of beauty. Okay, so this doesn’t always work, and I have to force myself to slog through multiple revisions. Such is life!
We’re back to that idea of initial perfection. I like to think that my work is always the most beautiful it can be, but I’m smart enough to know that I tend toward verbal diarrhea. (Most writers do; they just don’t want to admit it.) So, during revisions, I brutally cut the flabby, dead, idle words from my writing. Since I’m already in a sour mood because I have to revise, this isn’t as painful as it could be. In fact, the “slice and dice” phase can be perversely satisfying.
For the most part I think I’m fairly easygoing, but I am immovably fussy in certain areas. The biggest is one is in my writing. Attention to detail, especially when it comes to punctuation and grammar, is paramount. (That could be why I’m a better editor than writer.)
It is hard for me to just “chill.” I have to purposely relax and not go running to one of several writing handbooks to make sure I’m doing it “right.” Sometimes I have to break the rules to make things clearer.
No matter what I write, it all comes from inside me. I can be writing a news release or a lesson plan, but I have pulled the phrasing together and organized it. Every piece I write is my “baby.”
I just can’t leave it bundled up in its crib. I have to send it out, exposed to the public. Like real children, the things I write have my DNA in them. I still have to let them go out into the world to make their way.
Will they succeed? Will they make me proud? Will they crash and burn? Like any parent, I have to force myself to let go. This can be the most difficult part of writing.
Understanding why the writing process is hard helps me avoid panic and move forward. I don’t think these hurdles will ever go away, and they certainly aren’t unique. The word bleeding pops up often in quotes by famous authors discussing the writing process. I don’t really want writing to be too easy; the difficulties help keep me grounded and honest.
Then again, it would be nice if it was a little less painful.