Out comes the whip. We’re lazy, stuck, worthless. Our ideas are shallow, uninteresting, tepid. What’s our problem? Why can’t we just crank out pages like some literary version of a well-oiled machine?
I’ll tell you why not. Because this writing thing is hard. It always feels good to have written, but it rarely feels good to sit down to write. If I were to describe my own physical process, it’s like a nearly-unbearable tension within me slowly begins to rise. A welling up of so many thoughts and feelings that it feels I might explode. And yet, at the same time, there is the seeming impossibility of finding the words, of knowing what’s next, of getting it right. Shoulders tense. Jaw tightens. Eyes sting. Breath becomes shallow. Mind buzzes in circles endlessly. The page is a solid wall at which I must run, full tilt, and only by running, only by hurling myself straight at it might it crumble and give way. But it appears so solid! So unforgiving! Sometime I bang against it, and limp away, bruised and bloody. Other times, it turns out the wall was just a mirage. But there’s only one way to find out.
So. How to begin? Improbably enough, we must begin with kindness.
The brilliant Dani Shapiro, a modern sage of the pleasures and perils of writing and the creative life, reflects on getting to work.