“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” -Ernest Hemingway
Many writing guides have specific tips, and others have strict guidelines. Some are overflowing with suggestions, and others are musings on writing philosophies. Some are didactic, others flinch from ‘restricting’ the creativity of writing. Some focus on creating the correct environment for writing, and others on finding new sources of inspiration.
However, there is a general vein in many modern guides to writing: avoiding pain. Lessening suffering, creating ease, emphasizing joy and pleasure.
For some writers, it’s absolutely true that the work itself is a joy and a beauty forever. They love writing, and none of it distresses them. They’ve never cried over the idea of a five-page essay, or doubled over in agony at the prospect of 250 words a week for a class. They are puzzled by the aversion to writing that others display.
But for other writers, writing is suffering. There are many sources of pain: feeling exposed and vulnerable, feeling as if you can’t write anything worthwhile, feeling as if you are wasting your time humiliating yourself instead of doing, well, just about anything else. Knowing that you’ll have to edit and edit, proofread and get help, double-check all citations and agonize over every verb.
And while working on curing one’s perfectionism and learning how to write in general can reduce the suffering, nothing can quite make it untrue that writing is very, very scary for many people. People can and do judge you on what you write–isn’t that the entire purpose of grades? People can and do notice even tiny errors. Every comma is an opportunity for someone seeing and judging you, or, at least, what you created.
Some of this is due to an artistic entanglement between the created and the self. It’s true that artists are not their art, but especially in academic writing, it’s false to say that the author is completely divorced from their work. Many college writing assignments are highly personal to boot–write about what you did this summer. Write about a time you experienced discrimination. Write about your first kiss. Write about how you interpreted this movie, and explain why. Defend your beliefs. Advance your arguments.
The freshmen authors aren’t dead, folks.
It’s lucky we live in a diverse world, because there is an alternative to repressing or hiding the truth of writing pains: embracing them. Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Now, the quality of Hemingway’s works can be debated, but what cannot be debated is that he wrote, and for a living, even.
So stop fiddling with the exact arrangement of your desk. Stop chasing the field of daises that will magically inspire you to write the perfect poem. Stop memorizing punctuation guides to ensure nobody will question your semicolons. Stop closing your eyes and telling yourself it’ll be perfect. Stop running away from the pain and lean in. Grit your teeth and pump out the paper.
Sit down and bleed.
(Come to the Writing Center. We have paper towels.)
-Writing tutor Kaijaii