Nathaniel Hawthorne said it best, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” And he’s right. We writers are strange breed. Who but a writer would volunteer their time to sit alone for hours on end, their fingers curled above a keyboard punching out word after word, stringing them into sentences, paragraphs, and even books? Who but a writer would want to make their own cognition–their own consiousness–available to the many individuals “out there” to scrutinize, and perhaps–maybe identify with? That’s right (or should we say write)…not many!
For those of you who followed the “home series,” you’ve already had the lovely pleasure of meeting Tanya Chernov, author of “A Real Emotional Girl.”
She’s back this week with a wonderful post about writing the hard stuff–but isn’t anything worth doing hard? Take it away, Tanya!
If my relationship with a text is dynamic enough, I am rewritten by what I write. -Robert Grudin
There’s a point at the very end of every long day, when I notice that the dog has finally resigned herself to the chaise lounge beside my desk in the office—a squat piece of Ikea furniture suited perfectly for a dog of large size. She only pads into the room and atop her sofa in the dark, small hours of my nighttime writing sessions, when she knows we won’t be going to bed properly for a few hours yet. She has come to sense when the writing is flowing, when I have a clear head and keen focus on the page. This all sounds so smooth and easy, but it isn’t. It sounds calm and quiet, but it took me over a decade to clean away the noise.
The life of an author is necessarily connected to that which is most dangerous: our consciousness. It is often through the exploratory process of creative literature that we touch the exciting possibilities and subversive consequences of our capacities as a species. Yet for all of the grandiose ways in which writers may achieve greatness, the flipside is a dangerous preoccupation with our own wicked imaginations and the unavoidable mass quantity of time living inside our own heads. Not everyone is cut out to be a writer, and not everyone can handle writing memoir.
For the last eleven years, I’ve spent my griefhood sharing every thought and emotion with my readers because I chose to write a book about the experience of losing my father to cancer. I’ve had to be brutally honest, I’ve had to be very brave, and that has not always been easy for me. It certainly has not always been easy for my family. I can say—now, after the book has been out in the world for over a year—that the decision to endure all of that was most definitely worthwhile.
Steven Pressfield (author of one of my favorites, The War of Art) offers an excellent rule of thumb when it comes to tackling difficult subject matter in our creative work: “The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more certain we can be that we have to do it. If you’re paralyzed with fear, that’s a good sign.” I encountered so many different kinds of fear along my journey and will likely continue to face more in my writing life. We all know fear of failure, fear of success. Fear of madness. In the end, if you believe in yourself and your work, you’ll do what you must to push through it. When it comes to writing, editing, and publishing content so personally challenging, an author must swallow a willingness to relive every moment of that content.
For me, writing Girl was cathartic, and important, and it helped me get to know my father in ways I never could have done without the writing process. I wrote this book because I wanted to honor my father’s legacy, to give the world the gift of his message, and to provide others with the kind of truthful book that I so badly needed and didn’t have when I was in the pits of that raw, primal pain in the wake of his loss. It forced me—and I do mean forced—to confront and walk through my grief in a way that few others must, and because of that, I am able to analyze and face my emotions in a pretty well-adjusted manner. But good god, I would never in a million years want to do something like it again. It was brutal.
I tunneled through the turmoil by way of discipline. I simply got my butt to work. The way a ballerina returns home by stepping up to the barre, I found that when push came to the proverbial shove, I had no choice but to lower my fingertips atop the keys of my keyboard and start writing. It might last fifteen minutes, or it might go on deliciously for hours. However much I could muster, I simply tried to do it consistently.
There are dangers and consequences of working with dark subject matter, but there can be incredible benefits as well. Not only can you tell stories that other writers might not have the chutzpah to tell, but you also have an opportunity to process your experiences, manufacture your demons into something usable and healing for yourself. For the world.
Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I don’t think Papa H was too far off, really. When I rise from my desk at the end of each night, I felt as if I’ve left a good five liters of the stuff on the page, and I can only barely just make it the fifteen feet into my bedroom where I can collapse to sleep, knowing that I’ve done my work. I’ve done what I’m pretty certain I was put on this planet to do. Then and, usually only then, can I get a peaceful night’s sleep.
For more information on Tanya, her books, and writing life, please refer to her website, www.arealemotionalgirl.com
[Images retrieved from: author bio, www.arealemotionalgirl.com, book covers from amazon.com 10.01.13]