What Writers Moan About


Two dear friends came over yesterday, both of them writers (successful ones – supporting themselves by writing, teaching and editing) and when I asked what they were working on they started to moan. And when they asked me what I was working on I too moaned. Then Judith acted out a very funny scene of what writers do at their desks – jumping up, sitting down, checking email, walking around in a circle, sitting down, checking Facebook, petting the dog and so forth.  We talked about how it never gets easier. Surely doctors who take out tumors get a grip on taking out tumors and know how to do it so it’s not a big deal. Or truck drivers know to take the 15 from the 10 to get to Vegas from L.A., and that’s how they do it trip after trip. Or cooks figure out the best way to poach an egg or roast a chicken and they don’t moan about it, they just cook.

But here’s what my friends and I agreed on: if you’re a serious writer you never have a recipe or route that consistently works. Sure, you learn certain tricks, you learn about your own process, but each essay, each novel or memoir or article is starting from scratch. Our students might imagine us sitting calmly down at our desks, beginning work like sane adults, tapping out the words with great confidence (after all, between the three of us we’ve published a lot of books and essays and articles, we should know what we’re doing). But the fact is, we jump up, sit down, check email, pet the dog – and try to remember that if we do this long enough, stick with it, stay on the trail of whatever excited us about this idea in the first place,  eventually we’ll come up with a finished manuscript.

  6 comments for “What Writers Moan About

  1. fran b
    November 17, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Thank you! As I sit down, stand up, eat chocolate, try to meditate, write a few words, stop, stand up, take a call, check my email, read your post. I don’t know whether your post makes me feel better or worse that there will never be an improvement. 😉 But I’ll try to take them as words of comfort as they are intended.

  2. November 17, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    I so agree with this post! To those who don’t understand the writing process, they don’t see how much of a journey we go on to the finished product because all the non-writers see *is* the finished product.

  3. Carol Casselman
    November 17, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Thank you, Barbara. I really appreciated this piece!

  4. November 17, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    I’m so relieved to hear this. Not that I’m happy to hear it never gets better, but I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who wanders in circles and checks the fridge for inspiration before settling down to work. In fact, now I think about it, I think that my cat has figured out that the perfect time for tickles is right before I sit down to work. Clever kitty. >^..^<

  5. NanetteHoffmann@Hotmail.com
    November 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Wonderful Article. I’m going to print out the picture and post it above my desk. My problem is always lack of confidence. I’m not good enough. I don’t have the skills. I never went to “writing school.” You know things like that. What is so funny is basically I’m a very positive person and have always believed I can do anything I set my mind to. Writing however is, I believe, the biggest challenge I have ever undertaken and I’ve conquered a lot of challenges. Wow I never realized I saw this as such a challenge until I just wrote this. Thanks Barbara, you have done it again. Every time I read something of yours light bulbs go off. Thanks!

  6. January 15, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    Ohmigod. I just blogged about this very thing, except my moaning started when I noticed my writing desk was exceedingly dusty. (The desk itself, not the laptop, not the area directly left and right … rather, the outer edges.) If you give a writer a dusty desk, next thing you know, she’s having to organize what she’s removing in order to dust … .
    Okaaaaaaaay. I see where this might go. Feeling newly inspired.
    Thank you for writing A YEAR OF WRITING DANGEROUSLY. Like you, I always enjoy reading about other writers’ habits/rituals. When I wrote a weekly newspaper column, I made sure each piece was precisely 777 words.
    I am enjoying the hell out of each page.

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