Does Writing Have to Hurt?

Ernest Hemingway has been quoted: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

A cursory search reveals a number of such references to pain and writing. As a journeyman writer, I have a few thoughts on the subject. I am writing about these thoughts in an attempt to place them in some cognitive structure of my muddled mind.

Many past writers of renown seem to have been troubled souls. I cling to a notion that reflection and introspection lead to trouble, and trouble arouses emotions. Many of these emotions hurt, especially if suppressed. They fester into anger and guilt.

Writing is an art form that allows expression of emotions through words on a page (or screen). Fiction is creative expression of emotion with the pretense of being imaginary. The writing of fiction becomes cathartic as suppressed emotions are vented through a narrative medium of characters and literary devices.

Instead of talking about myself, these other guys have this problem. How do they deal with it? In the labor of writing, I also process my own feelings. At least, that’s my journeyman’s hypothesis.

Readers love emotions. We like to identify with characters and partake in vicarious feelings with the detachment of fiction. We temporarily feel the pain of fear, rage, betrayal, and loss only to look up and close the book. I suppose we feel better, but mostly we feel without getting overwhelmed.

My conclusion is that emotions sell books.

The craft is the creation of art that expresses life so that readers can swim in emotions without drowning. The more realistic a story becomes, the deeper the experience (and the danger of drowning). I suggest that is why some readers prefer cozies and fantasies, lest they realize the story is about them. There is comfort in deniability.

Enough of what my friend calls Seventies Psychobabble. Why must the emotions be painful? The honest answer is, because in my case, I’m just not that funny. And, I am not nearly joyful enough.

Essentially, only pain motivates me to sit at the keyboard and bleed. Comedy is a substitute for the bleeding. If I could write humor, I would.

Joy is an emotion. I can, occasionally write that, but I am not motivated because I am comfortable enjoying my own moment. Then, readers seem to seek out their own cathartic “pleasures” in reading material (and other art forms). Joyful people don’t seem to find a need to read joyful material the way perfect melancholy personalities seek painful reads. Blood sells books.

Keep writing, and enjoy the journey (even though painful). It beats most alternatives.

2 responses to “Does Writing Have to Hurt?

  1. My favorite author story:
    A friend of James Joyce (Ulysses) came in to find him prostrate over his desk. “Whatever is the matter, James?” inquires the friend.
    “I have only written 7 words today” says Joyce
    “Seven? That is more than many days, James”

    “But I have no idea where they go and in what order” replies Joyce.

    Joyce definitely wrote to the melancholy reader. I am glad you write with joy, Erv.

  2. I thought this was an excellent post as well as the comment from Tom. For many years now I have written (mostly items of poetry) and thought to myself, “I want to be a writer.” I would write and write and still say to myself how much I wanted to be a writer. Then it occured to me that I am a writer. I write, therefore I am.

    I had never heard Hemmingway’s quote before reading it here. It hit home for me. I too, bleed when I write. I tend to believe the reason there is pain associated with it for me is because I pour my heart and soul out for all to see. I worry about that at times. Sometimes being vulnerable to critics who are going to be commenting on personal emotion is difficult to put out there. That’s where my pain steps in.

    I often look at it as an athlete may look at his workout in order to be at his best. No pain, no gain. Everything I write is strength training for the next item in my head to be written. The more I write the less painful it becomes to use my emotions to stimulate the emotions of others.

    Thanks for the though provoking post and comment guys.

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