After the Honeymoon: Accepting the Ordinary Writing Life

It's tempting--and totally normal!!--to over-romanticize the highs and lows of the writing life. But the sooner we're through with the honeymoon period, the better. Here's why. |

So we've established that I was/am a super-nerd and that I looked forward to school in a fierce way. Here's the other side of that equation: School failed to deliver.

(Are you SHOCKED?? Hahaha.)

I would watch Anne of Green Gables over the summer and dream of a classroom like that. Those wooden benches they sat on. The one-room school. I had visions of writing on slate tablets with chalk, and school picnics and a warm-hearted Miss Stacy who encouraged us all to be our best...

And then I'd go back to school and my teacher was overworked and underpaid and acted like it. (Poor teachers.) And the girl who had a locker above mine would routinely open it right into my face. And P.E. was adult-sanctioned torture.

And basically, aside from my love of homework and the library, school wasn't much good.

There's the romanticized version, and then there's the day to day of a locker door meeting your face. AKA, Reality.

When I finished college and sailed off to start writing full time, I felt like I had dozens and dozens of people cheering for me. Fellow writers, fellow readers. Classmates and professors. 

I had visions of sitting at my desk in a cozy, artistic way. I figured that after a bout of romantically hard work, my first novel would unfold neatly. I would type it out, and find a publisher, and off we would go, arms linked, into publishing history.

So many adorable little visions about the writing life.

And Reality was gearing up with an epic locker-slam to the face and it was this:

The writing life was so ordinary. It was really difficult, but in a totally non-cinematic way. The novel never "unfolded" and never did anything "neatly."

There has also been no arm-linking of any kind. 

Can I say this: Sometimes you need courage to face a writing life that has no fanfare.

No blast of trumpets. No sense whatsoever that you are Hemingway working away in a romantically barren garret in Paris. No charming Max Perkins writing you letters telling you how good you are.

Sometimes I felt like I could handle any adversity, like I was ready to bravely do something, anything, for this new career of mine--dissect any number of novels to learn from them, or write thousands of words in a month to create the first draft--but when it came down to it, the work itself was very, very quiet.

Very ordinary. 

Possibly even dull.

When people asked what I did in order to write, it felt like a let-down to tell them. I thought it should sound a lot more glorious, one way or another. Romantically wonderful or romantically difficult. 

Instead of like plain old work. 

... Obviously, if you've read a few of these posts, you know that I have since added a lot of jumping up and down, and a lot of dance parties, a fair amount of chocolate, and a lot of other exuberances to my writing life. 

But it never erases or changes the fact that novels are written one word at a time.

And that they are developed by one "what if" and one "so maybe then..." at a time. 

There are a lot of days that are just scratching on paper, and going in circles. 

There are a lot of days that feel like they later get erased, when you throw out those eight chapters you spent a month on. 

There are a lot of days when you could summarize "what I did today" in one sentence: "I wrote things down." 

I meet so many new writers who get discouraged by this.

At first they talk about writing, and their faces light up, and they're full of ideas and dreams of publication. And we talk about writing practice, and they're excited to go and do it. 

And when we connect again, they've already given it up. "It's just a busy season for me," they say, or "it just didn't feel right. It's not what I thought it would be." 

And I get it: I totally get it.

In a way, we've trained ourselves to expect a certain kind of feeling with writing, a certain kind of lifestyle. Whether it's rosy-hued success, or rosy-hued difficulties. A noble struggle or heroic success.

But we picture it looking a certain way, and--certainly for me, certainly for so many people I've talked to--it just doesn't look like that. 

99 days out of 100, my writing life looks a lot more like paperwork than like some delightful, Pinterest-worthy, artist-in-her-studio situation.

I look more like a clerk shuffling papers. With a fondness for staring out the window, and a definite coffee addiction. And that is my day.

But hear me on this: It's a good thing.

Letting a falsely romantic view of this life die: That is a very, very good thing.

Yes, it's discouraging at first. Yes, disillusionment is not fun at all.

But after that, after the writing-life honeymoon is over, we have a chance to encounter the real writing life. 

When we see it as it really is--the ordinary days, the ordinary work, the unlovely chaos--we have a chance to love it as it really is.

See, I think that the over-romanticized view of the writing life is Not Helpful. At all. I think that it contributes to resistance, it makes us want to give up, it probably aids and abets Writer's Block

It makes us love the idea of writing more than the actual writing. The image of a completed book more than the path (the sweat! the tears! and more sweat! and a lot more tears!!) to an actual completed book.

Ultimately, an over-romanticized view of writing tells us lies about what we've signed on for.

And if we try to cling to it, it will make us very, very unhappy. With our work and probably with everything else. 

The romanticism will make us quit. 

The sooner we embrace the ordinariness of our writing lives, and its normal, everyday activities, the sooner we get to the really good stuff.

Moments of pure inspiration. Sentences that are so lovely they shock you. Characters that stand up and speak for themselves.

That's not false romanticism, that's the real writing life. The good writing life.

There really are moments that make you want to stick around for years and years. In spite of the ordinary days, and in spite of the hard not-so-picturesque work. 

Go ahead and let that romanticism wear off.

Choose the writing life as it really is: paper cuts and all. 

Because that's where you'll find your real stories. That's where the finished books hang out. That's where you discover your voice. That's where your themes and subjects come into their own.

In the real days of real work. 

Lean in to the reality. It really is worth it.