“I do find writing a very painful process. I never understand writers who say it’s enjoyable.”
-Tom Wolfe

‘A very painful process’ – not quite sure what that means. Is writing really painful? Does it have to be in order to be good, be authentic? It’s difficult, sometimes ideas and the right words are hard to come by, but I don’t find pain in that kind of difficulty. So far I have scribbled 9 pages in a notebook, restarted this post 6 times and still don’t have a handle on what I want to say, but this is not a painful process. In fact it is rather enjoyable. Thinking about what to say, how to say it, searching for inspiration, it’s a nice conversation I am having with myself and all the authors I look to for help. When (if) I finally do hit on the right combination it is exhilarating, like the spark in Frankenstein’s monster “It is alive!”.

I am curious why so many writers feel pain, seem to require it. I can understand what John Gardner means when he says,  “Art begins in a wound….”  The wound opens the door for pathos, empathy, compassion, emotional maturity, curiosity about the human condition. But the wound is not the Art, if anything Art is a healing balm for wounds. In that sense pain does seem a requirement to be fully human, much less a writer.

Where does the pain come from? It is real, not imagined by strange folk who claim the title ‘writer’. It is not always and only caused by writing about pain. I have written poems about some very personal loses and they did not cause me to feel ‘pain’ but something more akin to longing and even a sense of release/relief. Graham Greene challenges us to write about happiness, “Pain is an easy write. In pain we’re all happily individual. But what can one write about happiness?” Is there angst in a story about happiness? Well it might at least cause some doubt about one’s ability to write, and I don’t have to tell you how painful that can be.

What is it about writing that can bring someone like to Styron to say, “… writing is hell.”, or Orwell to compare it to “… a long bout of some painful illness.”, or Katherine Anne Porter to beat herself in the head each morning just to get started. One can find any number of quotes about writing and pain but a good explanation escapes me, there is still something fuzzy about the concept for me. I do not feel pain when I write, which might make me less than Deep. I can be okay with that, as long as I can tell the difference between shallow and Deep, I may keep from making a great flapping jackass of myself. Also, I don’t feel particularly deprived by the lack of pain, considering where I am at in my little quest to pen the perfect poem pain is the least of my problems.

It seems to me that writing is a lot like fire was to Frankenstein’s monster, a nice little light in the dark, but painful to touch.

That’s all I have for now.


John Gardner’s full quote because it is so beautiful …

“Art begins in a wound, an imperfection—a wound inherent in the nature of life itself—and is an attempt either to learn to live with the wound or to heal it. It is the pain of the wound which impels the artist to do his work, and it is the universality of woundedness in the human condition which makes the work of art significant as medicine or distraction.”

John Gardner