Tag Archives: reader

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.

When you write, what are you thinking about?

Here is a question from a newer member of Write on the Edge, our writing group at Foothills Branch Library of Yuma. It stopped me in my tracks—mostly because it sent my mind to spinning like tires on ice. Okay, not a useful metaphor in Yuma, but I am a Wisconsin boy. It got me thinking so fast I lost traction. I’m going to take a stab at answering, but I really hope you help me out with comments.

Sometimes I think about you, the reader, and try to construct some meaningful combination of words to express my thoughts. I suppose it’s always a good idea to keep the readers in mind, but I must admit you usually are not front and center—my ideas  occupy that space. That may be a good thing.

Other times I think about the mechanics of writing so intently with my logical mind that my creative mind breaks free to express my feelings. This may not be a conscious decision, but it is intentional. That is, it happens when I intend to express something really important to me. Poetry helps. I believe the focus on meter and rhyme, maybe even structure of a particular form, becomes a type of mantra that allows more of my brain to function simultaneously. Well, that’s my hypothesis.

The researcher in me immediately tries to devise some inquiry that might answer the question or test my hypothesis. The question is similar to the research question for my dissertation which basically asked what high school students think about (and how they do it) as they work on real environmental problems. In that case, students were encouraged to “think aloud”, or talk, while they worked in small groups. It is a method that has been used to study problem-solving techniques and strategies for years, but I have a constraint here. I write alone.

Introspection and reflection might be of some use, but it is even more difficult to manage subjectivity with introspection than with thinking aloud. The best we may do is to learn what we think we are thinking about, and that is grossly biased. Hence, the comments of many writers may be necessary to even begin to perceive patterns. And, there is a key word—patterns—because, we are not likely to always think in similar ways to each other or to ourselves in different situations.

Here is one fair conclusion, however. When we write, we think. That is why writing can be a wonderful tool for learning. It requires us to structure our ideas, and occasionally it reveals our feelings, even the ones we consciously try to avoid or hide. For example, much of my writing during my divorce in the late seventies was about Vietnam. Obviously the experiences were on my mind but suppressed.

Caution: Introspective journaling can be too revealing for a lone individual. Counseling and group work is advised lest memories trigger realism of reliving the stress, pain, and terror. Maybe that is why I accepted the choice to write fiction. I can pretend it is not all about me.

Much to my surprise, I found myself thinking about my fictional characters so intensely that they talked to me and actually drove the story. It happened so subtly that I didn’t notice right away. I just found myself thinking about how they were going to get out of the situations I had created for them, even to the point of wondering how a sentence was going to end. I wish that experience on all of you. See why I had to start writing a sequel immediately?

Writing can be very much like meditation, and meditation works best if I do not think about what I am doing at the time. I am really living in a single moment as a passive observer unless compelled to participate, and then I choose participation by previously accepted purpose and intent. So, I think it is fun and useful to think about writing, thinking, and thinking while writing, but I do not wish my metacognition (thinking about thinking) to impede my cognition.

Happy thoughts and have fun writing.