When I was in high school, I wrote a truly horrible little essay titled “Writing Is Such Sweet Sorrow.” I call it ‘little’ and ‘horrible’ because those are the two primary characteristics of the writing of virtually every high school student.
At any rate, this particular essay, though a total train-wreck thematically and aesthetically, was important for my early, tentative writing life. (I can’t believe I just used the word ‘aesthetically’ with a straight face. I’m turning into an English major).
It taught me first how blasted hard writing is, because it took me like two weeks to write a non-terrible 300 words. It made me realize that writing life was very different than high school English: I couldn’t vomit out a first draft the night before and expect it to be readable.
The second reason is really more of a corollary to the first: it familiarized me with the lonely reality of writing life; the fierce, drawn-out battle with the Resistance.* And the truth is if the battle is not fierce, then you’re probably losing it. More on this in a minute.
As many if you know, I am a journalism major at Cedarville Universtity in Ohio. It is a very young, fledgling program. We have two profs: one is broadcast-focused and has been at the school for something like 30 years, and the other is brand new teacher who has 25 years of print journalism experience.
At various times in my journalism career–as young as it is–I’ve not only reconsidered my interest in journalism, but also my love of writing at all. I’ve written about this previously.
What’s so great about writing life? Why do we put ourselves through the trouble? Sometimes I seriously wonder whether writing is all it’s made out to be. Any writer who has written anything substantial can tell you that. Slaving through the first ten pages, the first ten words, the first ten letters even, simply isn’t fun. It hurts. And when we realize no one is ever going to want to read us (we see the statistics on the low chances of getting published, perhaps) we just drop our pen or keyboard and quit.
One of my favorite writer stories is about a friend of James Joyce, who once found the famous writer slumped over his desk in despair. “What’s wrong, James?” he asked.
“I’ve written seven words today,” Joyce replied.
“That’s a good day for you James,” the friend said, referring to Joyce’s slow writing habits.
“Yes,” Joyce said, “But I don’t know what order they go in!”
Behold how even the greatest of us slip into despair. But what about those of us who aren’t James Joyce; those of us who aren’t even published; those of us who get 30 hits a week on our blog? Why endure the pain and sweat and struggle when no one is listening?
More particularly, I’ve seriously wondered whether any Christian approach to journalism is worth it. Let’s face it: this can be a sleazy profession. It’s really easy to be either dishonest or incompetent. Most Christian journalists are the latter. Some people can tolerate biased or ethically dubious journalists; everyone hates bad ones. Further, what’s so great about journalism anyway? We work all day on a piece, it gets publised as an A1 story. Great. But most of the people in your city don’t ever see it, and only some of your readership even appreciates it. Then it turns into wrapping paper. Why do we do this? Why do we go through the trouble?
I have no definitive answers to these questions. I’ve heard other writers’ answers to them, but while on one hand I’m certainly no pragmatist, I think you really have to experience the struggle and defeat it in order to really know how to do it for yourself. And yes– you’ll have to beat it more than once. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, its that. It’s like sin, you can kill it, but it just reincarnates over and over again. But I have beaten it occassionally, and though I believe each person has to train themselves against the Resistance, I also think there are some time-tested principles to live by. Some I’ve gained myself, others I’ve learned from others. And I will write about them tomorrow.
In the meantime, I will offer this: a lesson from my naiive high school self. Writing is sorrow, we all know that, but it is also sweet sorrow. It’s hard for now, but in the end you’ll be a better writer and a better everything for it, because among other things you’ll learn a true work ethic. So take refuge in that. It’s a little like saving yourself for marriage; sure it may suck for awhile, but in the end you’ll be glad you held out because it made the end so much sweeter. And who knows, you may look back and realize that you actually enjoyed the process. Well, not that I would know in either case…
…To Be Continued…
*’The Resistance’ is defined by Steven Pressfield as whatver keeps you from accomplishing your goals. For writers, the goal is to write, and the Resistance is the force that throws things (often intrinsically good things, like sleep for example) into your way. The Resistance represents the writer’s, photographer’s, scholar’s, father’s, mother’s, teacher’s, and athlete’s greatest struggle. Simply put, it could be considered simple laziness (though for some people who aren’t me, productivity is their greatest struggle). And most people aren’t even aware of its existence, so it conquers them.