writing is hard.

So I got a new tattoo this week, one that speaks to me at a fundamental level:

photo (7)

In retrospect, I can’t figure out how these words will strike my students, exactly, or my clients in our writing center. I wonder if they’ll think: dude, I already knew that or really? writing’s always been easy for me or oh crap. is it too late to switch sections, to find a class with a real professor, one who’s mastered writing and can teach me to do it, too?

And at some level, yes, I can see it sounds strange coming from a) somebody teaching college comp and b) a nascent scholar who freaking studies writing for a living, but man: this is a reality of which I need to be reminded every time I sit at the keyboard.

Writing is hard, and it’s coming out of my ears lately, even more than as per usual.

In particular, my brain is big-wheeling over The Writing Process; or to be more specific, the process that’s supposed be mine. I think it’s because I’m preparing to teach composition again–for the first time in a year–while writing collaboratively with a friend and fellow fic writer on a piece we started about a year ago.

Can you see a pattern here, perhaps? It feels like my writing’s been on hold for a while.

And now, too, staring down the barrel of my dissertation and all the very particular kind of writing that will entail, again, it all comes back to The Process.

One thing I’ve learned in grad school is that, as a writer, I get into trouble when I wander away from the data, from the content of whatever it is I’m trying to say. I can tie myself up in theoretical knots–frame, unframe, and matte–through page after page and not say a freaking thing. Worse: I’ll write myself into a ditch, a mental one, sure, one that makes me feel like I’m drowning. Like I have nothing useful to say.

And sometimes, of course, that’s the case: I really don’t have anything insightful or interesting or even halfway amusing to add, and that’s fine.

No. It’s annoying as hell and flip-the-table frustrating, sometimes.

Writing, that bastard, is so fucking hard.

Yeah, that wouldn’t fit on my arm.

What I’m always chasing these days is that balance between consideration and production, between turning ideas over in my head or on the backs of Starbucks napkins and sitting in front of the screen and putting that stuff on the page.

I write to learn, yes, I write to figure out what I’m saying–there’s no question about that. But since I’ve been in PhD world, I’ve realized how much of my writing process, for better or worse, still goes on in my head.

Often, it’s background noise to something else I’m doing, or should be; working through a story as I code data for my dissertation, or chewing on data as I try to write two beautiful, fictional men into bed. The result of this being that, sometimes, when the goddess Rhetorica is on my side, I can sit down and seemingly dump out a lot of text at a rapid pace–a lot of it’s crap, sure, but it gives me a good place to start.

If I think too much, though, I’m screwed.

Not enough, and what comes out come back from my advisor or kindly editors with comments like you can’t just say that. you need some actual proof.

It’s like getting a tattoo, in a way.

It’d had been two years since my last tattoo, and I’d both forgotten and was dreading the pain, the little snip snap jab of the needle into my skin. So the first few minutes this time? Very unpleasant.

But I calmed down, got Zen, and made it through the initial outline pretty damn well, if I say so myself.

Then the artist hit me with numbing gel and let it sit for a while.

When he returned and went back to work, I couldn’t feel a damn thing. That was almost as bad as the initial, terrible pain.

It was only in that interval in between, after the first jabs but far enough away from the last, when I was focused and breathing and singing along to Stevie Nicks on the stereo that everything felt good, felt right.

That’s the space I’m always chasing when I write: that interval between the pain and feeling nothing at all.

So I need this reminder on my arm to turn to, a inky compass on which to focus my anxiety as I chase that perfect space:

Writing is hard.

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5 thoughts on “writing is hard.

  1. I imagine they’ll see it as a surprise; it seems as though the general consensus is that once you reach a certain level, writing isn’t difficult anymore. But of course that isn’t quite true, because even the things that make their way onto the page easily need editing and rearranging and lots of work.

    As a PhD student in literature, I quite admire the tattoo.

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