Monday, 17 January 2011

Why I Hate Writing (but still do it)

Yesterday I came to the conclusion - not for the first time - that I hate writing. It's so bloody hard. Not all writing, though. Non-fiction I-want-to-tell-you-about-this writing is something I find easy, and I can usually throw together something communicative and reasonably-well-structured very quickly. This blog post, for instance, is a quick lunch-hour job, and I'm eating a bowl of soup in between sentences. (That is, one bowl eaten piecemeal, not a whole bowl each sentence). Writing my PhD was easy, and, without wishing to sound immodest, it was rather better written than most (much to the pleasant and vocal surprise of my examiners). The little pastiches and parodies which make it onto this blog are generally vomited onto a page in one easy go. I wrote a 15-minute parlour opera libretto (deliberately without metre or rhyme) in little more than an hour. It just comes out of my head fully-formed. Why, then, have both of my major projects been such torture?

With Guilds I put this down to writing in strict meter, (almost) insisting on perfect scansion, and not settling for anything less than perfect rhymes. Absent any storytelling or audience experience, this is a tremendous technical challenge which a number of songwriters whom I respect don't even attempt (I have a blog post in mind about this, so no more detail here). Writing songs in this manner is, by necessity, very slow, and requires the laborious making of a lot of lists of e.g. appropriate rhymes (even Sondheim hates this bit). I resolved that my next project would not tie me (kangaroo) down in this manner.

So to Upbeat. I have just had a weekend largely free of distractions, a sizeable portion of which I spent writing. Total output: about 2,200 words. Is there any wonder this novel is nowhere near completion over 2 years since I started? If easy writing is like vomiting, then this is akin to giving birth to bricks. It's good stuff. I like what I'm writing, and it is increasingly full of nuance and subtle character interactions. Yet I find it so hard to write - my mind wanders off into distant parts of the narrative, worrying how each sentence will fit in to the whole. I question every word, every choice of syntax, every punctuation mark. I lose concentration - a lot. In short, it takes fucking ages.

Why bother? Reading yesterday's output, or especially the day before's (which has probably had a brief edit by now), is a joy - assuming that it's any good, of course.

I hate writing, but I love having written.

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