A “difficult, agonizing, dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had minor dental surgery a few weeks ago.

And recovery from a concurrent dental infection has taken longer than I had expected.

I’ve had to reach down deep–deeper than usual–to find the energy to do my work.

It’s in these moments in life that writers need a reason from which to pivot. Slow your work down if you must. But find the reason to keep working, or else you’ll quit.

When people ask me if or what I’ve been writing lately, I infer from the tone of their line of questioning¬†that they think of writing as a work of art you whip up whenever the creative muse visits.

But it’s a discipline that relies on consistency and, often, intense emotional and mental focus.

As Ray Bradbury put it in “Zen in the Art of Writing,”

Writing is supposed to be difficult, agonizing, a dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation. But, you see, my stories have led me through my life. They shout, I follow. They run up and bite me on the leg–I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go, and runs off. That is the kind of life I’ve had. Drunk, and in charge of a bicycle, as an Irish police report once put it. Drunk with life, that is, and not knowing where off to next. But you’re on your way before dawn. And the trip? Exactly one half terror, exactly one half exhilaration.

I identify most with the first sentence of that statement. Writing is difficult work that necessitates a feverish obsession to completion. The bite Bradbury describes? It’s a compulsion to find the story and to craft the words of an idea until it reaches completion.

Inspiration is a small part of the craft. If you want the muse to visit often–or, to follow Bradbury’s analogy, if you want ideas to bite often–you must feed her (or them) often.

When stringing sentences together feels like an impossibility, string them together.

It’s in this process of pushing through the difficult, agonizing, dreadful, terrible occupation that the best ideas bite and hold on until we’ve created something with them.

 

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