Inspiration (sort of) from me and David Rakoff

In his collection of essays Half Empty, David Rakoff has this to say, regarding writing vs. other tasks:
One progresses from novice to adept with a soothing reliability. Except for writing. Well into adulthood, writing has never gotten easier. It still only ever begins badly, and there are no guarantees that this is not the day when the jig is finally up.
And this:
Creativity demands an ability to be with oneself at one’s least attractive, that sometimes it’s easier not to do anything. Writing — I can really only speak to writing here—always, always only starts out as shit: an infant of monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible, and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometimes forever)
This is why, I think, so many writers give up. Because unlike so many talents, writing takes years to develop, and even then, the first draft is still going to be so imperfect. It's frustrating, and you do hope that you get better, draft after draft, year after year, but part of being a writer is waking up and realizing that no matter how smart you are, no matter how hard you work, or how talented, that you still have to wake up every day and face the blank page, or worse--you have to wake up every day and face the bad pages that you created days, weeks or even years before, and then do something with them.

I have friends who think writing is just putting down their initial thoughts on paper, and many of my aspiring student writers think this too. And sometimes they are just genius enough that the first draft is actually quite good. But for most of us, that kind of writing just doesn't happen. It takes work. Skill. Commitment. And the willingness to scrap a sizable chunk of working material in order to better the whole.

I'll never forget the day I scrapped a whole 60 pages of my novel. It was the first draft, and there was a big, huge sagging part in the middle. I decided I needed some of that material, but that it would be easier just to ditch the 60 pages and write the scenes over from scratch knowing what I know. I did that for draft 2, and it was so much better. Now in my current draft, I find that yet again I come to a place where I may need to rewrite a scene rather than tweak. It's getting frustrating, and I am so ready to be done. So many times I get frustrated and announce to Mark, "that's it, I'm just going to mail that agent the dissertation draft; I can't take this anymore," and then Mark not so kindly points out "if you were really going to do that, you'd have done it already. There's a reason you're working this hard, and you just have to see it through."

But it is hard. It's so damn hard. And if I didn't think it was meant to be, if I didn't believe in these characters, in this story, and in my writer's calling, I'd probably just quit and send an early draft, and almost hope for rejection. Isn't that strange? Hoping for rejection? I must be nuts! And yet I understand why I think this way, because if I'm rejected, I can tell myself to walk away. If I'm rejected, I can tell myself "this isn't working; I'll just write something new." But deep down, I know it will work, and that if it works, it will be something beautiful. Something worth all this pain and trouble and effort, and all the sacrifices I've made.

And the truth is, even if it doesn't work, it's worth it. If we really want to write, it's worth it. It has to be. It may not grow our bank accounts, but it will grow our souls.


Jeanna Thornton said…
Spoken from your reeks of truth!

The writers journey is brutal, hard-nosed and beautiful...where else would we pluck ourselves to death and relish in the aftermath!

Keep writing! I will, too! :) jink
Shana said…
Thank you for this, Kathryn. I needed this reminder right now (and you knew that :).

Sophia said…
Thanks for this inspiring post, Kathryn.

"Deep down, I know it will work, and... it will be something beautiful."

Very wise words!

I keep posting early drafts at, hoping to come back and see the thread that connects all the posts.