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Is Writing “F*cking Great” or “Torture”?

March 4, 2013

 

Question book

It might be the literary question of this generation… or maybe not.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Retired author Philip Roth says writing is “torture.” Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert says writing is “f*cking great.”  I thought I had this figured out  a couple days ago, when I concluded that I agreed with Gilbert’s comment but thought that Roth’s was way cooler. 

But since then, I’ve put more consideration into how these varying philosophies apply to my own writing.  I don’t mean that I’ve spent long hours of reflection where I suddenly wonder where the time has gone.  I only do that at church.  I mean that I gave it a couple moments of thought between books and chores and meals and errands. 

WHY WRITING IS “F*CKING GREAT” 

I write Dysfunctional Literacy with the personality I wish I had in my non-writing life.  I’m a quiet guy.  When I talk, I get ignored a lot.  People yawn around me.  I take a long time to speak because I’m careful with my words, so I get talked over while I’m completing my thoughts, and I’m not the type of person to say, “Shut up and let me finish, ***hole.” 

It’s probably good that I don’t say things like that because it’s usually my bosses that interrupt me.  The last guy that called one of my bosses an ***hole got escorted out of the building.   My voice also has a slow tone to it, even when I try to speak quickly.  I guess it’s like an invitation to be interrupted. 

I don’t get interrupted when I write.  I can take my time, choose my words carefully, and most of the time, I get it right.  Even though I’m very careful with what I write at work, email is awesome because I never get interrupted, and co-workers can’t take credit for my ideas.  Email is a (potentially backstabbing) friend that I use sparingly. 

Dysfunctional Literacy is my way of blowing off steam.  I can write about stuff that has nothing to do with my job, and I get feedback from a lot of other writers who are doing incredible things with their own blogs.  And when I write, I can dream of the day when maybe, just maybe, I can make a living (or partial living) off of writing, and that would be “f*cking great.”  But it’s still “f*cking great” doing it for free.

I don’t think it would be “f*cking great” writing for free for somebody else’s blog (like The Huffington Post), but if other writers are happy doing that, that’s “f*cking great” for them. 

WHY WRITING IS TORTURE 

Yeah, writing isn’t really torture, but it can be frustrating, and Philip Roth is an old man who was in an awkward situation when he said writing was “torture,” so I’m not going to take him literally. 

I think about quitting Dysfunctional Literacy sometimes, just like Philip Roth retired from writing, except maybe our reasons are different and his career is a bit more accomplished than mine. Every night when I’ve written or edited something for Dysfunctional Literacy or other projects, I wonder if I’ve just wasted my time. 

I have to be realistic.  All this time, energy, and effort might turn out to be pointless.  I get mad and frustrated when I write.  I’m kind of unpleasant to be around when I write, so much so that I’m usually left alone.  Plus, I don’t make any money off of it.

The good news is that I’m always in a great mood when I’m done. 

It’s not necessarily the writing process that’s torture; it’s the idea that I might be wasting my time with it.  But I’m pretty sure if I don’t write, then I’d be angry with myself later on in life for not trying.  But that’s the mental “torture” (too strong a word, but you know what I mean) that anybody who has a non-profitable passion has to deal with. 

FINAL VERDICT 

I asked the question, so I have to make the tough decision.  Writing is “f*cking great” because it’s the only time I have a personality.  Writing is “torture” because I probably put far too much time into it and I’m kind of an ***hole while I’m concentrating.  Well, I need to have a personality, so I guess that makes writing “f*cking great,” and my family can do without me for a while every night . 

For all I know, that time I spend writing might be my family’s favorite part of the day.  So much for “torture.”

18 Comments
  1. I think the key here is your line about how you feel when you’re done. As long as you continue to be in a great mood as you come back up for air, you’re doing what is right for you (and for me it turns out).

    • You’re probably right. If we ever get to the point where we’re perpetually mad, annoyed, frustrated, tortured because of the writing (I guess that happened with Roth), then it’s time to retire (or at least take a break). But not yet.

  2. It’s not pointless, because I read it. And thought it was f*cking great. Just saying. I also didn’t interrupt you because it’s rude, no matter how slow you talk.

    • Thank you for reading (and saying it’s not pointless), and thank you for saying it was f*cking great, and thank you for not interrupting me. I think that’s the first triple thank you I’ve ever written.

  3. According to an internal Bush administration memo, writing is not considered a form of torture, and could legally be used to obtain confessions from prisoners. Of course, few in that administration ever heard of Roth.

    • I read Decision Points a couple years ago, and I’m pretty sure President Bush wrote it himself, so it makes sense that his administration wouldn’t (or didn’t) consider writing torture. And I also believe President Obama wrote Dreams from My Father as well, so that… ugh… politics. Now THAT’S torture.

    • bah ha ha ha! excellent points. well made.

  4. I could see writing as torture, in the way climbing Mt. Everest might be considered torture. Crazy hard, but wicked awesome and well worth it when you reach the top.

    • Good analogy. And I’m sure somebody who’s successfully climbed Mount Everest has said it was “f*cking great!” too (more speculation on my part). I’d rather write than try to climb Mount Everest.

  5. Yeah, about this: “I think about quitting Dysfunctional Literacy sometimes.” I just discovered your blog so please don’t.
    Writing is a little bit like exercise for me: I get twitchy if I don’t but sometimes it’s a pain in the arse to force myself to get started. Once I do, I’m happier and so are the people around me. But like you, I had an issue with whether I was wasting my time, whether everything I wrote just disappeared into the void unread. It took me about ten years to get published so maybe all those words were a waste. Or maybe they were practice? Either way, I’d have been a grumpy bugger if I’d not attended to them.

    • Thank you for reading Dysfunctional Literacy (and letting me know that you read it). I really appreciate it. I like your phrase “…whether everything I wrote just disappeared into the void unread” because that’s what it feels like sometimes (but not all the time… not even most of the time… just every once in a while… and NOT recently). But it happens.

      • Sure thing. I don’t read too many writing blogs but your’s is now on the list. Not only do you write well but your view of the business is a little different. And your piece about my book title was absolutely inspired, I shared it with a bunch of folks. Talking of which, I should get back to not killing off my MC… 🙂

  6. Hi, I’ve nominated you for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Just check out my site for details. – http://ellelainey.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/the-very-inspiring-blogger-award/

  7. I don’t think it’s ever pointless to write. It can be fruitless however, but it’s been that way for me and I still do it. It’s just a matter of how much it means to you and how badly you want to succeed.

    • I think I agree with everything you’ve said, especially about the distinction between “fruitless” and “pointless.” I wish I had thought of that when I wrote this. Thank you!

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