The Hardest Part of Writing

Sometimes I talk to myself. Not like an insane person (I hope) - I think of them as very constructive dialogues, of the same kind that ancient philosophers, Plato maybe, or Socrates, would use to explain a theory or idea. I remember the first time I was exposed to Plato's The Allegory of the Cave. It struck some chord within me. I was a teenager though, so I just thought it was kinda sweet and moved on. I found it again in college, in a philosophy class, and it struck me again, and this time I was so much more focused on my studies and in academic pursuit in general that I realized why I liked this ancient work so much - it's incredibly logical. What better way to explain a philosophical theory than in the form of two people talking about it; once can ask a question, then the other can respond, they can bounce the idea back and forth, and you get to see the idea chiseled into its final form, and I think it's just a wonderful way to present an idea (and so much more accessible than some of the dogmatic diatribes the discipline is often known for).

All that is to say that I have this sort of on-going conversation running in my head where I evaluate my experience as a writer. My successes, my failures, the decisions that I've made and the opinions I have of different aspects of this craft - they are all addressed by me and myself (and I, when he's available).

One of the things that often comes up is the question of what is the hardest thing about this trade that I've chosen to throw myself into (because what is more satisfying than framing your primary pursuit as cripplingly difficult?). It changes all the time, probably depending on what I'm currently working on and need to feel vindicated in doing, writing a first draft, editing a second, rewriting a third, publishing a final...

I think I have an idea of the greatest struggle that I face with my writing, and it has absolutely nothing to do with putting words on paper (twist!). Writing is the most satisfying pursuit I have ever engaged in; my scientific studies, every job I've had, everything else I've ever wanted to be, feels absolutely ludicrous in comparison (I really didn't want to say 'pales in comparison, but that was a tough one to avoid). That being said, it is also undeniably the most lonely pursuit of my life, and I don't mean to say that I feel lonely when I write, but that this part of me sits on an island set apart from every other part of my life, even when it has such an influence on every part of myself and everything that I do.

It's just that writing is something I do for myself. I don't have a large audience to impress (or if I do they are quite stand-offish), and I don't have many people ask my in my daily life about my books that are actually interested in reading them. I don't have to pay the bills with my writing, and I don't feel like I have to be constantly publishing in order to impress anyone, or to feel like this is a worthy use of my time. While I was writing my first book I was deathly afraid that if I didn't finish that work then I would never write anything again. I'm over that now though; I find such comfort in this craft that I know I'll never stop.

The problem is that I can see the difference between writing for pleasure and writing as a vocation. The more I do this the more apparent to me it becomes, and I've been wrestling with the fear that I'll never be motivated enough to make a living at this. I am gaining a lot of respect for people who succeed in things that they have no pressure to succeed in - learning a language just for the hell of it, starting a website or a business on a small scale, anything that could be dropped without a moment's notice, I admire people who can keep pushing their stone up the hill, knowing they aren't bound to it like Sisyphus. They could let it roll down the hill, shrug, and go pet Cerberus.

That's what I have to do - keep pushing a rock that is mine and mine alone - knowing that I am the only one with anything to lose if I step aside and let it roll. There are so many things that can seem more important - spending time with my wife, Caitlyn, or my niece, Macy. They are such a huge part of my life that taking my attention away from them is exhausting. This sort of exchange runs through my head all the time:

"Okay, I could stay up after work tonight and get some writing done while everyone sleeps. The house will be quiet, you can even get out the typewriter if you shut all the bedroom doors."

"But didn't you say you would take Macy to the park in the morning?"

"Yeah, but I'll be fine. I'll just have my coffee in the morning and be full of energy."

"But she'll want to play. Are you gonna run around in the grass with her if you stay up all night?"

"I could sit on a bench-"

"She won't let you. She'll want to race. She'll need your help to climb up that new jungle-gym thing at Manito."

"Well-"

"She does start school soon..."

(Sigh) "Then we won't be able to go to the park just any morning."

"So?"

"So I'll just go to bed. Maybe I can get some writing done on my break at work..."

And you know what? Sometimes I do get to it later. More often, I don't, and then I feel like I've abandoned the only work that means anything to me. I sit at my job and I feel a little more chained to my desk, and a little more stuck in a routine I don't want and a little further out to sea from the island where my writing lives and the waves are pulling me further and further away.

Then I have to mix up my metaphors, run back down the hill to where I let my rock slide, and give it a shove back up the slope. That is the hardest part of writing for me, writing with the knowledge that I am the only one that can push this rock, and that I'll have to live with myself if I walk away to go give Cerberus a tummy-rub. This is the work that fires me up, it's the only work that I want to do, but sometimes that makes it harder to do it.

I feel like I've done an alright job of explaining that, and also like I am a real whiner. Maybe I am.

Silver lining? I feel like writing now.

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