Writing and work ethic

A dear friend of mine told me the other day that she couldn’t understand how I was able to write. “I just sit down at my computer and, well, eventually I start writing,” I told her.

“No,” she said. “I mean, I don’t understand how you can make yourself do something that is so incredibly frustrating to me. I hate writing — I can’t believe you do it for fun.”

I replied, “Well, it’s not always fun.”

Because as we writers know, it isn’t always fun. Sitting down to write, there are always those “no good, very bad” days where writing isn’t something that relaxes us or even something we take pleasure in. It drives us insane. We want to do anything but write. (The Internet seems like a great place to hide from writing. Talk to any writer and they can tell you all about the most mind-numbing waste-of-time websites on the Internet and how they have spent considerable time there.)

So why do we stay writing, even as day has turned to night, a long frustrating night into another bleary-eyed morning? Why do we keep writing something that might never find a huge audience, or something we know is just going to get cut in edits?

I believe that’s where work ethic comes in, and even though only a few lucky people on this Earth get to call writing a job, there is some aspect of being a writer that demands you take it as seriously as your job. You are producing art, but you are also doing “work.”

That’s the separation between people who write opportunistically and without much labor and writers who have to sit and struggle through a piece, and toss and turn all night because wow-does-that-scene-stink. Sometimes you have to force yourself to write, just because you told yourself you would. Even if nothing good comes of it, at least you put more hours into your craft, your strange and beautiful desire to translate and work through ideas on a page.

A writer’s work-ethic comes from the knowledge that it’s not that first hour where you write your best, but that third or fourth. That moment when the words (after losing all sense from endless re-reading), begin to coalesce into something extraordinary and true. A writer’s work-ethic is knowledge that the payoff isn’t always in the moment of writing itself, or even publication, but the fact that you participated in part of a long history of a phenomenon of inward-thinking and art. It’s beautiful to be a part of, even if it’s not always fun or prosperous.

So the next time someone asks you why you write, why you can’t make an event or go out that night because you have to do it, and why you can’t just write another time,  maybe it’s best just to say, “Because I need to. Because I want to.”

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2 Comments

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