I love to write… and I hate that.
Writing has always come hard to me, a frustrating and grueling parturition that only inspires feelings of love when the finished product is born into the world. And yet it has gown to be an inseparable part of me — a child that over the years has helped me immeasurably to process information and communicate with more confidence. I love it with the love of a parent for a child. But I also feel as much ambivalence towards the writing process as I do towards what my wife had to go through giving birth to my children. Without childbirth, there would be no children; and without the writing process, there would be no writings.
Writing is one of the most arduous and frustrating endeavors I have ever undertaken. I’m constantly encountering situations where I labor to find the right word. I know it’s out there in the aether of the English language, somewhere; I know I’ve heard a word, someplace, that conveys exactly what I’m trying to say. I can feel it… it’s right there… right on the tip of my brain. I almost… have it… in my grasp… But then it eludes me. Just as my tongue starts to curl around it, bearing down on it, ready to finally push it through my narrow pen out into the cold, new world with a grunt and a cry, somehow it refuses, and retreats yet again back into the blackness, forcing me to pause and regather my strength before trying once again to coax it out into the light.
I also get frustrated when I know what I want to say but not how to say it. I want it to be understandable. I want it to be easy to read and follow. I want it to be interesting and profound. But it never comes out that way easily. I hate being confusing; I hate being boring; I hate being superficial; but without the struggle, that’s always how my writing is.
So if I find it so difficult, why is it so important to me?
You would think the main reason writing is vital to my sense of self is as a means of communication. However, this is not the case.
Yes, I often have a message burning within me like a fire in my bones that refuses to be contained. I cannot keep it inside. In fact, I cannot not write.
And yes, it has to be writing rather speaking. I prefer written communication over oral because it allows me more time to form my thoughts into words, to better prepare them for their life in the real world. In oral conversations, I’m afraid the silence will get too long, or that someone will change the course of the conversation, or that someone will steal my thunder. These fears cause me to speak too quickly and I either misspeak, or I use the wrong tone and offend someone, or I present an idea that is too superficial and not what I truly believe in all of its depth. In writing I have time to think, to formulate what to say and how to say it without being misunderstood (hopefully!).
However, writing as communication is only scratching the surface.
Not only does writing afford me the time to think, but even more importantly the writing process helps me to think. To transmogrify a beloved quote: “I think, therefore I write.” The tactile act of organizing my thoughts on paper — of writing them down as I research, reviewing them, reorganizing them, rereading them time and again — allows me to delve more deeply into any subject and gain a solid understanding from which to form a more stable opinion.
I also love the creativity intrinsic in the act of writing. It is a living, vibrant thing that, with time and energy, can be nurtured into the best entity it can possibly be. I love when a vivid and germane metaphor knits itself together, or when a catchy turn-of-phrase reaches out its tiny hand and grasps the reader by their mind, drawing a sweet smile to their lips and inspiring a sense of awe and wonder and gratitude.
Writing also solidifies the knowledge and understanding I’m gaining during my research and contemplation. It is etched deeply into my memory. It is a fact of education that the more senses used in learning, the better retention and future recall will be. In the act of writing, I’m using my eyes to see the words, my sense of touch in putting them onto the paper or screen, and my ears when I’m using voice recognition or reading it, either aloud or with my inner voice, to see how it sounds. Coupling the use of the senses with descriptive writing takes it even further by using creativity to incorporate all the senses as well as the emotions, bringing the reader vicariously into the experience.
For example, without descriptive writing, the struggle to put words on paper or screen becomes just another unmemorable statement about its similarity to the joy and pain of childbirth.
But with descriptive writing…
The initial conception of an idea becomes an orgasmic experience. A sensual melding of mind and memory replete with soft trailing kisses and feather-light touches and passionate murmurings that climax in a surge of enthusiasm and inspiration. And a new idea is conceived.
But then comes the long and tedious process of forming that idea into a complete entity in the womb of my mind. Two cells unite and begin to grow, cell upon cell, corpuscle upon corpuscle, bone upon bone, flesh upon flesh as it is knit together letter upon letter, word upon word, line upon line, precept upon precept. It stretches my mental capacity, the skin of my mind turning more and more taut and glossy and stinging, like my pregnant wife’s belly. The weight of it begins to bear down on the pelvic region of my mind making it difficult to walk and talk without a waddle. The burden presses on my mental bladder and I feel like I have to urinate every half-hour, passing liquid yellow letters having no cohesiveness or substance with a dribble and a splash onto the porcelain-white page. It keeps growing… and growing… and growing… until I feel like my brain is going to pop.
But then the birth day comes. I start to empathize with my wife when she says labor felt like a steel band wrapping from one side of her spine, all the way around her belly, back to the other side of her spine, and squeezing. Because that’s how my brain feels. And the headache is almost unbearable.
I rush to that sterile hospital of a computer screen and enter a filename to labor in. Like the Birthing Rooms at Metropolis General, I’ve tried to make it less like a hospital and more like home. The background image of a peaceful room has a sage-green, woven-cushioned rocker in the corner. There is also a bed covered in a jacquard quilt that matches the floral pattern of the wallpaper strip running around the room midway up the minty-green walls. A vase of vibrant flowers and a rubbed-bronze lamp decorate the nightstand. Soft music plays as if from the micro stereo atop the ornate dresser.
These comfortable little touches help, but too many other accoutrements in my study belie the hominess. Alongside my computer and next to the oak rails of the balcony sits the remote to the silent TV across the room and it reminds me of the rails and wired-remote controls of a hospital bed. A sconce on the wall looks way too much like the oxygen supply valve located next to the bed in every hospital room. A hard-bound dictionary and a softcover thesaurus sit on the shelf like medical supplies waiting nearby, quickly accessible in the case of a wordical emergency.
The contractions are getting more frequent now — they’re; you’re; we’re; it’s. They’re getting stronger. Hang in there, Babe, you’re doin’ great! But we’re getting tired; it’s feeling like an impossible task.
I give her forehead an encouraging kiss and taste the salt of her. As I write now, there’s sweat on my brow as well, but my labors are nowhere near as severe as hers. With every contraction, she squeezes my hand so hard I can feel the bones grind together and hear the joints pop. It tingles from the circulation being cut off. But I don’t tell her. It’s a small price to pay compared to what she’s going through. Even now my hands are turning white and tingly again from typing for so long. I drop them to my sides and shake them to get the blood flowing again. With every rise of pain she puffs and pants and squeezes and groans and whimpers followed by a short valley of respite. The mountains are getting taller and the valleys are getting shallower. How much longer will this go on?
Finally the doctor says it’s time. It’s time to push that rough draft out into the light.
And push she does. Her face contorts and she yowls, a feral and unearthly sound. There’s nothing civilized about this process. It’s just us against the pain, a fight of our life to bring forth new life. And it’s me against the empty page, fighting to bring forth something of value.
“One more time!”
And there it was, a booklet-sized head all red and scrunched and wrinkled and wet and grotesque. It was the most beautiful ugliness I’d ever seen.
And my first paragraph is born.
But there was a problem. The amniotic fluid was contaminated with meconium. Afraid the newborn would aspirate it, the doctor quickly finished the delivery and rushed it to the nearby table. We didn’t even know whether it was a boy or a girl; I don’t yet know if this is an essay or an article. He quickly threaded a long, wire-thin plastic tube through its nostrils and down into its lungs to suction them. My heart clenched and my stomach churned at the sight of my wife’s frightened and concerned face as the schllooooorkk of the excess matter was vacuumed out of my newborn’s lungs. Brown-tinged amniotic fluid swirled as extraneous words, redundant ideas, and unimaginative phrases flow with it through the tube and into the collecting container. It seemed like reams of time but was actually only a few seconds before the doctor removed the tube and allowed it to utter its first choking cry.
The doctor picked it up, turned, and said, “Meet your new son.”
They finished cleaning him up and brought him to us swaddled in a butterscotch-trimmed baby blanket sprinkled with toy giraffes and smelling baby-fresh sweet from the powder and the lotion. As I cradled him in my arms, a litany of emotions informed my thoughts: awe; wonder; trepidation; worry. What an amazing little guy! How I can feel so much love for this little person I’ve never met before? Am I going to be a good father? Is he going to be alright? What will he become?
I feel the same way about the newborn manuscript I hold in my hands, swaddled in a cottony-soft binder and smelling of fresh ink. What will become of it? Will it be well-received, or will it be ridiculed and bullied? Will others love it as much as I do, or is my perception biased and everyone will hate it? Will it accomplish great things, or will it sit mouldering on a shelf or tucked away in some forgotten corner of cyberspace before one day passing into oblivion?
As I sit here now, in my memory seeing again my newborn son’s tiny, pruny, scrunched face while I gaze at the crisp, white, freshly-printed frontispiece of my manuscript, holding both of these brand-new lives in my heart, I can hardly remember the pain and the difficulty and the labor that went before.
But you won’t.
You probably don’t even remember the statement that preceded this sensory illustration — the one about the struggle to putting words on paper being similar to the joy and pain of childbirth — but I’ll lay you a dollar against a dictionary that now you’ll never forget just how much writing is a struggle for me and yet is still as inseparable from my sense of self as my flesh-and-blood children.
See also my post Tips for Helping the Birthing Process Along as well as A Pep Talk for the Discouraged Writer — an excellent companion piece by Mez Blume on Writer to Writers to fill in the the gap of practical tips on how to get through the literary birthing process.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, I invite you to check out what I think of as my best work on “My BYOB List (My Personal Favorites)”.