The Efforts of Writing

Before this post begins in earnest, I have two random observations:

  • I knew I wanted to write a blog post today, so this morning I was mulling over possible topics. I have a memory of being in the shower and composing in my head a blog post involving a crucial digression about the French feminists and l’ecriture feminine. Now, twelve hours later, I have no idea why I felt the need at 8am to defend the French feminists (though I have for years thought they are generally misunderstood).
  • My cat had to go to the vet yesterday and has seemed exhausted and a little defeated ever since, so I’ve been trying to be extra nice to her. So even though I really wanted to write tonight, when she climbed on my lap I felt like I couldn’t refuse her. Now I’m writing this with the laptop balanced on the edge of the couch at about a 45 degree angle–with me leaning over to the left in order to type–because I can’t put the computer on my lap while my cat is there. The things ¬†we do for love.

Although I thought the above would be random observations, now that I have written them, I realize they are both telling reflections on the efforts of writing, some of which involve the tragicomic frustration of a lost idea, some of which involve the sheer physical effort (which is really a mental effort of course) of sitting down at the keyboard and writing something other than a facebook status update.

It is not news that writing takes a great deal of effort, but it’s something that bears repeating, I think.

Today I was developing a workshop for advanced students who have taken on summer-long, self-directed research projects, all of which will require some kind of written product. The takeaway of my workshop, though I am not saying this explicitly of course, is: you need to write more. And sooner, And more often. I mean really, what other advice is there? I am reminded of a student I had a few years ago; I was trying to give him some feedback on additional research he needed to do and more he needed to add to the paper he was writing. He was with me for a while, but at a certain point, he turned to me in disbelief and said, “Writing a research paper is so time-consuming!” Truer words were never spoken. This was a revelation to him, and not a welcome one.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a real writing project. This summer, I have a goal for a work-related article, but while this is a good goal, I also want to have a personal writing project as well. I have a funny hang-up about starting a writing project, which is this: at any given moment, I have several half-baked ideas for writing projects, but I often do not follow through on them because choosing one to develop means not choosing the others. (The loss of an idea.) But also, they are all ideas for long projects, and I am fearful of the time and energy I need to put into them to make them successful. (The sheer physical effort, which is really a mental effort.)

One of the benefits of not having a tenure-track job is that I don’t have the pressure to publish anything, so I can write anything I want at any time I want. And this lack of restriction has allowed me to write some really fun things, like my article for Bitch magazine or the series for the academic blog about the history of drugs. But it also means, of course, that I need to motivate myself, because no one and nothing else is pushing me, and self-motivation is difficult for almost everyone. As much as I genuinely do enjoy writing, almost anything else is easier, so I might as well do those other things. It also turns out–this is no surprise to anyone who knows me personally–I find too much choice to be debilitating. So not having a defined project means inertia.

What I know I need to do is follow the advice of the great Anne Lamott and take it “bird by bird.” Easier said than done. But maybe writing about my reluctance will help.