If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I hate writing.
I sometimes hate it the way you hate mile 20 in a marathon, when it feels like there’s no way your body will find the energy to drag itself across the next 50 feet, let alone the finish line. And if you’ve never run a marathon before, take my word for it: you will hate mile 20.
Cliché alert: writing a novel is like running a marathon. With a marathon, you’re committing to a training schedule that will destroy your knees and your weekends, all in the hopes that, on race day, you might actually be able to crawl past the finish line.
With a novel, you’re committing to writing many thousands of words, in the process shunning fun, daylight, and most forms of human interaction for several months.
Writing those words isn’t always fun. Kind of like a marathon stops being fun the moment you actually get past mile 1 and realize you still have 25.2 miles to go in 81-degree heat. Sometimes, it feels like you just can’t humanly write 100,000 words.
I’ve been working on a project I call the Quality Jones series for over two years now. It’s taken me through many highs and lows, and reminded me of the things I absolutely hate about writing.
I hate when the story refuses to jell. I’ve started and aborted Book 1 of the Quality Jones series three times now, because I realized 75,000 words later that the story wasn’t making sense. There were really cool bits scattered throughout, but no glue holding the story together.
Trying to concoct that glue has led to two years of frustration. Every time I think I have the basic premise that will hold everything together, I get to a point late in the story where I realize it doesn’t. The story falls apart, and I’m left pulling at my non-existent hair.
I hate the doubt that comes with writing. It’s that voice in your head saying you’re not good enough, and that you should probably give up and dedicate your life to building farms on Stardew Valley instead. (If you haven’t heard that voice, the other voices in my head are telling me you’re not to be trusted. I’m kidding. They’re saying you’re still totally cool.)
For two years, I’ve been hearing that voice, and there have been times when I’ve agreed with it. I’ve stopped writing for months at a time, breaking the cardinal rule of writing (i.e., write every day, even if your only free time is during your appendectomy). I’ve vacillated between writing, starting new projects, and giving up on them because I gave in to doubt.
I hate that writing can sometimes be more grinding than fun. Trying to come up with good descriptions is arduous. Writing yourself into a corner with no feasible out is pure torture. Trying to force yourself to write 1500 words a day despite feeling that every syllable you’re writing is total crap? Definitely not fun. So yes, there are days when writing feels like you’re running mile 23 of a marathon on a hamster wheel. There are days in which writing feels exhausting to even contemplate.
But here’s the other truth. When you cross that finish line at mile 26.2 of a marathon, it’s almost impossible to describe the feeling. But here are a few tries.
You feel relieved that you made it in one piece because you genuinely thought your heart was literally going to explode. You’re elated. You can’t believe you’ve managed to do what felt impossible only hours ago. You feel on top of the world because you’ve joined a tiny minority of people on this planet who thought running a distance that killed the first marathoner was somehow a good idea.
When you finish your novel, it’s a very similar feeling. You feel relieved. Elated. Maybe a bit in disbelief. You feel proud because you’ve joined another tiny minority of people who thought toiling on Scrivener and foregoing fresh air for months was somehow a sane idea.
Let’s be honest about something else. Writing isn’t fun if you write stuff you don’t love. Duh, right? But what about when you write what you do love? I recently admitted to my wife that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to be more than just a writer. That I had to use my writing as a platform to speak about social issues I feel strongly about.
This turned Quality Jones, an otherwise fun, whimsical project, into a grind as I sat there thinking of ways I could allegorize the present state of things without being too preachy. The narrative became “Quality Jones vs. Evil Corporation and Corrupt Administration,” and it stopped being fun.
My wife asked me, point blank, what I wanted to write.
Despite all the frustrations of the last two years, I admitted I wanted to write Quality Jones.
She asked me why.
“Because,” I said, remembering the epiphany I’d had that morning, “I love Quality Jones. I love the characters and I want to see the story through.”
And I guess that’s really why I love writing despite the occasional bouts of hatred. When you write about what you love, and you love your characters and their relationships with one another, you’re willing to put in the work. You’re willing to run those 26.2 miles over and over again, because sometimes the company of your characters can be quite enjoyable and even surprising at times.
So I’m resuming work on Quality Jones. I’m going to have fun with it. I’m going to stop trying to make some grand political statement, and just let the characters do their thing. I love these characters so much, I figure it’s a good idea to probably let them tell me their story instead of force-feeding them mine.
Just as long as they don’t expect me to run a 72-mile ultra marathon.