I Hate Writing

I hate writing.  I always have.  Writing papers in high school and college was excruciating, even after I’d honed my craft finely enough to be able to write eight pages in two hours and get my B.

I still hate it.  Is there anything worse than getting up in the morning and staring at a bare white screen?  (Don’t answer that question, it’s rhetorical.  There is much that’s worse.)  Every day I procrastinate as long as I can, going to the bathroom every fifteen minutes, making sure all the dishes are put away, tidying my work area.  Finally, when I can’t stomach my laziness any more, I sit down and start to write.  Two sentences come out, and then I have to play at least one game of Freecell.  Or maybe two.  Then five sentences, followed by more Freecell, then a couple paragraphs, more Freecell, and so on, the writing eventually lasting longer than the Freecell.  Not that the Freecell ever goes away completely.

It does get better as I get further along.  First drafts are always the worst.  I have to write in order to think (I couldn’t write an outline if next fall’s election depended on it) , so my blank screen is really blank.  Gradually, as I start to get the ideas down, it gets easier.  By the final draft I’m hardly playing any Freecell at all.  But it’s still tough, and most of the time I’d rather be riding my bike, or playing Civ II, or letting Alaskan fishermen use my body as bait for king crabs.

When I finish, there’s generally a flash of joy that often leaves me blinded on the road to Damascus and lasts for about five minutes, at which point I start worrying about what I have to write next.

You might ask, why do I write at all?  The answer?  Because the only thing I hate more than writing is not writing.

Which is another post entirely.

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  1. 1. Kate Elliott

    This sounds a lot like my process- and I love writing. Except when I’d rather be playing Freecell (which I don’t have on my iMac, although maybe that’s for the best).

  2. 2. Jeff

    While I can certainly understand and often share in the desire to avoid writing, it makes me just a little bit nuts when I hear successfully published authors talk about how much they hate writing.

    I myself have written five novels, and have been searching for an agent or editor to take me on for 11 years now. If I was lucky enough to have a book in print I wouldn’t complain about what a chore it is to write – I’d be over the moon with joy, and grateful for the opportunity to present my work to a broad audience.

  3. 3. Karen Wester Newton

    Jeff– yeah, it does kind of remind me of that old commercial for something or other where rich people would complain about the rising cost of polo pony food. It’s hard to dredge up sympathy. But from what I’ve heard at conferences, it’s a common syndrome among writers. Maybe there’s something about being a writer that attracts procrastinators? Or maybe it’s a deadline thing that no one gets until they have one?

  4. 4. Simon Haynes

    “Because the only thing I hate more than writing is not writing.”

    I think that’s the sentence you should be looking at.

  5. 5. S.C. Butler

    Kate – Your anti-Freecell solution sounds like one I should adopt. I haven’t been able to find any other cure.

    Jeff – Sorry to have suggested I’m in any way ungrateful for being published. I had hoped to sound more bantering than whiny. But I felt pretty much the same when I was unpublished (six novels in the trunk) – writing is just something I’ve never enjoyed, except at the end. Writing is work, and it’s even more work after you’re published, when you’re saddled with a whole new set of demands that are much less fun (and much less rewarding) than writing.

    Karen – I think procrastination is endemic to anything you have to do by yourself. The few times I’ve written in collaboration with someone else we hardly procrastinated at all. And it was a lot of fun, too!

    Simon – Exactly.

  6. 6. Kelly McCullough

    I love it. I do procrastinate, don’t get me wrong–that’s the reason I’ve removed all games from the laptop–but the longer I procrastinate the worse I feel. I honestly love that blank page and thinking about all the things I could use to fill it up and pretty much the whole process. It’s the selling and the promotion that I get whiny about, though I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to whine about them.

  7. 7. Kate Elliott

    I love to write; for me the procrastination fills up the time between when I need to sit down and start and when the actual writing begins flowing. Interestingly, I don’t remember having this problem 20 years ago.

  8. 8. Alma Alexander

    Kelly said: “It’s the selling and the promotion that I get whiny about, though I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to whine about them.”

    Word.

    I love writing. More than that – I depend on writing. It’s what makes me what I am, WHO I am, and without it I think I would wither.

    Selling the stuff… is a different animal. I don’t like that so much. I am not a naturally GREGARIOUS person and schmoozing with people I do not know makes me uneasy – on the whole I’d rather be home writing – but it’s something that has to be done for the rest of it to get off the ground I guess.

    It’s the REWRITING I don’t like, and the tweaks, and the endless angsting over whether something is finally “good enough”. Writing is wonderful. Letting go of what you have written is damned hard.

  9. 9. S.C. Butler

    Alma – I actually like the rewriting best. Refining the idea, polishing the words, bringing the characters to full and ample life. Watching the story finally come to life.

    And perhaps I should have said, not that I hate writing, but that I find it difficult. Very difficult. For me it is often easy to get a story wrong, but very hard to get it right. It takes time, and care, and patience.

    And I am an impatient fellow.

  10. 10. Simon Haynes

    Revising my early drafts – now THAT I enjoy.

    And the marketing. Love that part.

  11. 11. chrisweuve

    Jeff — I think the lesson is that it’s work, even for the published.

    FWIW, I understand the hating to write part. What was it Heinlein said (quoting someone else, I think): “Writers don’t like to write, they like to have written.” (YMMV.)

    Some of my “favorite” activities over the last 30 years have been things that I wanted to quit but just couldn’t.

    The secret, I think, is to make the OCD work *for* you…

  12. 12. Jeff

    Writing certainly is work, a labor of love. :-) Sometimes it’s a chore, but there are times when it feels as if I’ve really tapped into something greater than myself, and I can’t write fast enough. It’s those rare moments that make me love and stick with the act of writing.

    S.C., there’s no need to apologize. As I said, I do understand the feeling you’re talking about. I also thought of the quote about loving to have written, rather than the act of writing itself.

  13. 13. Kelly McCullough

    chrisweuve, the OCD bit made me laugh out loud–since I’m editing a book in the lobby of my hotel (don’t ask) I got some very strange looks. A couple months back I made a comment on a writer friend’s blog saying I was a little bit OCD about one aspect of the then WIP. Another friend on the blog (also a novelist) said* dude, you write novels for a living, there is nothing sort of about your OCD.

    *paraphase for context’s sake.

  14. 14. vimoh

    People still play Freecell. I guess writers should have minimal computers. Nothing but the word processor. I totally relate.

  15. 15. S.C. Butler

    vimoh – I actually have an old stripped-down laptop that I love. But when I travel I need internet access and that would mean I’d have to transfer wips from one computer to the other, which I would forget, so I just leave everything on the up-to-date-model.

  16. 16. Simon Haynes

    I deliberately chose a new laptop without wifi (this was four years ago, when such beasts were still available.)

    Eventually I caved in and bought a wireless network card for it, but when I’m writing (properly) I take that card and put it in the laundry, forty metres away. Otherwise I’d be ‘just checking email’ or ‘catching up on the news’ all day.

    With the desktop I’ve resorted to yanking the network cable to force myself to get on with it, but I have to be careful because my PC has a bunch of scheduled backup tasks which duplicate everything to network storage.

  17. 17. Karl Ziellenbach

    Nice entry, Sam. I go through periodic cycles of eliminating distractions and being focused, but they’re usually short-lived. Sometimes writing seems to crawl and revision/rewrites become torturous. But like you say, if I don’t write, it bugs me even more. Hope to see you in Pittsburgh.

  18. 18. S.C. Butler

    Karl – Definitely see you in Pittsburgh!

  19. 19. Miss MoneyPenny

    I just finished reading Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art and the fact that I finished a book speaks volumes… Anyway he defines resistance and the various forms it takes…. awesome read. Love your blog

  20. 20. S.C. Butler

    MoneyPenny – Glad you’re enjoying the blog. I haven’t read The War of Art, but that’s a great title. – James

  21. 21. karolina

    well i sometimes cry when i have to write

  22. 22. Danny Boy

    I’m glad to hear you hate writing. I hate writing too. If writing was a person I’d murder it. I’ve tried to quit numerous times but it always comes back, like a disease. Published, unpublished, quality material, or crap, it’s all the same to me.

    I hate reading other people’s fiction more than my own. The only stories that are actually worse than mine are everyone else’s. It is my dream to finish the book I’m working on and never write a sentence ever again.

  23. 23. S.C. Butler

    Danny – Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I like reading.

  24. 24. Brad

    It sure is nice how you can google your lamentations, and someone’s article will pop up that perfectly articulates them.

  25. 25. S.C. Butler

    Brad – Glad to be of service.

  26. 26. jupiter

    Well, here I am, trying to bang out another page or two for my research essay. Or at least pretending to.
    I hate writing too. I hated it in high school, I hate it in college. Why do I have to go through this BS again after four long, boring years? To “prepare” for some sort of ostensible future? To “round” out my “education?” Complete and total bull.
    Yeah, I’m just ranting. But thanks to school any and all passion for writing reading or just about any subject is gone. Completely destroyed.
    I mean my major is computer science for Christ sake. At work the most writing any of our devs do is generate some app documentation and be done with it. Maybe write up a design proposal here or there, but those are about a page at most and in nice big 14 font. Not some gargantuan research thesis that no one in their right mind would ever read (except my instructor, but she’s an English major so it still applies :)
    I apologize if this is rather long-winded, it’s just nice to see someone who shares a similar opinion… even their job is to write. ;)

  27. 27. S.C. Butler

    Jupiter – I think schools ask students to write papers because nothing trains you to think clearly and concisely like writing a paper. On the other hand, you either can think clearly or not by graduate school (I’m guessing that’s where you are), so now it is BS – they’re just training you to be a professor.

  28. 28. Kathleen

    Thank you so much for your essay “I hate writing.” I found it very inspiring, except that I play spider solitare between bouts of writing. I love spider solitare way more than writing, but in the end, I was end up facing the tyranny of the empty page.

    Kathleen

  29. 29. S.C. Butler

    The key is overthrowing that tyrant. And the worst part is having to do it every single day.

  30. 30. Ariane

    I really dislike writing, and I am a top-notch procrastinator. Not a good combination.

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S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.

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