I’m gonna stake the claim: Writing, the act of doing the writing, is fun, and writers who aren’t having fun may be doing it wrong.
I find something enjoyable, fulfilling, satisfying — in other words, fun — about the act of letting my brain-words flow out onto the paper. Sometimes even editing and rewriting can be fun — fun not in the light sense of how eating ice cream is fun, but fun in the sense that being engaged in writing can completely absorb my attention and help me forget my worries (including any ego-worries about whether anyone will read what I write).
The reason I write is because I like to write. I write because it’s fun. Of course, not every single thing I write is fun; sometimes a person has to create a text to match an assignment or to fulfill a purpose in having an effect on a reader. But when I am writing on my own, I feel no need to write for anybody but myself.
Perhaps, Dear Reader, you’ve read enough of my posts to have already sensed that I had this priority. While I do appreciate knowing that readers have found what I wrote interesting or valuable, I don’t primarily write to appeal to readers. I don’t want to think about others when I write. (Richard Hugo writes: “Never worry about the reader, what the reader can understand. When you are writing,
glance over your shoulder, and you’ll find there is no reader. Just you and the page.”) I want to think about what I find interesting. I want to be free to go wherever my writing and my thinking lead me. If that also interests others, OK.
And writing whatever I want to write is glorious. The things I write — journals, notes, blog posts, etc. — help clear my mind of extraneous concerns and concepts, but they also teach me new things — I have insights, epiphanies, that help me see the familiar world in new ways. It’s pretty terrific — it’s actually heart-poundingly exciting at times. I’ve had writing experiences (not yet with this blog post!) that feel transformative, transcendent, experiences that are beyond my normal daily mindset. Perhaps this is like “runner’s high” for those who use our minds rather than our legs.
I knew I liked to write but I got some insight into why after reading this essay by Alan Shapiro, in which he talks about the value of having one’s attention fully absorbed into one’s writing.
I recently posted a three-year-old piece I had written about fame, and I knew the desire for fame was juvenile. But since posting that, I’ve realized that fame may be actually the last thing I want if I just want to write. Publishing and promoting a book, giving readings, trying to make more money from writing — these are all things that actually take away time from my writing. If what I actually love is just the writing, I may not want to be famous, or even publish my work in any form more complex than this blog. Here are my words; I don’t need to have to do anything more.
It’s possible that some of my desire to be a Famous Writer comes from having taken literature classes where the teachers revered the Wise Writer and we read his (almost always it was “his”) writings that were canonical, revered (another attitude I had to get over was thinking that these earlier writers were special, were doing something truly Great. But there’s no need to think of them that way. They were just writers, putting words on paper, as I do. Some of their works are highly valued by others; some weren’t. I recall reading somewhere Whitman’s opinion that his frequently anthologized “O Captain! My Captain!” wasn’t his favorite work of his poems). In wanting fame, I must be partly thinking that if I become famous, my works would live on (to be assigned to students who’d rather be choosing their own reading materials).
But of course, worrying about one’s legacy is complete bullshit. What will I care whether people read my works when I’m dead — I’ll be dead! My time for writing is while I’m alive, and writing is one way in which I love spending the life-time that is allotted to me.
There’s a famous quote by Sam Johnson — “No man but a blockhead every wrote, except for money” — but this makes sense only if one doesn’t actually like writing. I love it enough to do it for free. I’m not saying I wouldn’t accept a hefty advance from any publishers reading this blog who find it brilliant beyond belief, but I’m saying that an advance is not my goal.
But I can’t control that. What I can do is use what free time I have to get the deepest satisfaction I can from writing, and that satisfaction comes from just doing it.
This is something I need to remind myself of regularly — almost like getting a booster shot. Otherwise writing can seem like dragging blocks through the muck (or even worse, the NECESSITY that I write and never not write on a day off, etc can become an oppressive master — like, failure to write = failure, etc).
Furthermore, the word “blockhead” is not used enough anymore.
I like your point about how it’s OK to take a day off. At times, I even forget that myself, thinking that I should be writing in every free moment. Thanks for the comment!