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Why Writing Is Like Digging In The Dirt
Despite the romantic notions some people have about writing, it’s an occupation like any other.
And it’s a rather risky job, too, at best producing rare diamonds from the depth, at worst simply blunting your mind against the granite of dull routine.
The question whether you can make a living from your writing or not is completely besides the point.
Writing is hard work.
Inspiration is Overrated
It’s a common misconception that you need to be inspired to write and have ideas, be it prose or non-fiction.
Some people think that good writing is constantly fueled by lonely Eureka! moments and silent illuminations. And while these moments exist and can help to get started, they are in no way the norm.
In an undergraduate course about literature, our professor once started out by saying: “Make no mistake, dear students. Most of the greatest literary geniuses of our time were alcoholics and addicts.”
He then pointed out that this was in no way an invitation or recommendation of any actions, from his side. He was simply stating a fact.
Whether we look at Hemmingway, Joyce, Faulkner or Capote for example, they all were rather heavy drinkers.
Quite possibly this alcoholism can be understood as a way of “hunting the spark”, of becoming inspired and staying inspired, if not naturally, then by force.
Now you can ask what their literature would look like if they hadn’t drunk that much. Maybe much of their writing wouldn’t be the same, or would it?
It was the famous songwriter Leonard Cohen who when asked about his struggles with depression once said that great artists don’t produce great artworks because of their depression, but “despite it”. The same is probably true for alcoholism.
But not every writer is working on a 5000 page novel or an epic cycle of ballads.
In the spectrum of what we call writing there are all kinds of manifestations and not all of them are equally glamorous and lofty.
Nevertheless, they all have one thing in common: They don’t require constant inspiration.
Whether you’re writing for a travel-magazine, business blog or poetry slam festival, it’s always nice if you start out with a pinch of (random) inspiration but the other 99.9% up to the completion of your text are pure hard work best approached with a clear mind and balanced body.
Discipline and perseverance don’t make the news like rampant drinking and partying.
And yet, it’s the former that make good writing, not the latter.
The Terror Of The White Page
We don’t sit that often in front of empty sheets of paper, anymore.
Now, that moment of the “white page” is happening on a screen, instead.
A screen which is radiating its shrill blankness in full blasts of light while the cursor is blinking, reminding you with each passing *blink* that you still haven’t written a single word.
Whether you are a high-school or college student or a free-lance writer, we all know this moment.
Some writers are fond of calling this situation “writer’s block” when they keep staring at the cursor and getting more and more terrified by the second that they’ll never be able to write a single word!!!
But writing is like mining.
Just as a person has to get accustomed to the situation underground first before he can go dig for diamonds with results, a writer needs to get used to the process of writing and its conditions in order to stop panicking when the going gets tough and paint visions of gloom in his head instead on paper.
But the white page is not really a barrier.
It’s more like the opening of a mine-shaft, leading down.
Just as experienced miners will not experience vertigo from staring down that hole or cave in from the anticipation of claustrophobia , a writer can learn to do the same.
img: Some rights reserved by Grégory Tonon