old book, black and white book, gothic, dirt, moldering book, erin j bernard, ejb writing studio

Bringing the Pain: Why Writing Well Hurts

“Eliminate things until you cry.”


Ever noticed how painful writing is?

I don’t mean the bodily act of it, although that definitely smarts, especially around the eyeballs, neck, and shoulders. (FWIW, yoga and stretching are shockingly beneficial for those committed to sedentary creative pursuits, as is learning to stop craning your neck forward like a horny turtle every time you get excited over a particular bit of prose dancing across your screen.)

old book, black and white book, gothic, dirt, moldering book

I’m talking about the psychic act. The doing bit. The-gluing-your-wiggly-butt-to-the-chair-and-finishing-the-fucker-already part.

If you haven’t noticed that it tends to hurt, congratulations to you. You are a rare and beautiful bird.

If you have, I’m sorry, I can sympathize, and I’ve got news: it’s supposed to hurt. Like, a lot.

Making time to write and then actually using that time to write instead of infinity-scrolling Facebook or re-reading stuff you’ve already finished writing or just picking at your fingernails? Not easy.

The hurt begins at the point of creation, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Getting your writing truly ready for the world requires—you guessed it—still more pain, this time in the form of editing.

Ruthless editing is the handmaiden of tight, clean work, and it entails plenty of snips and cuts. Sometimes to flesh, sometimes to bone, sometimes to jangling nerve, as you excise junk words, seek (and follow) blistering critique, cast off beautiful lines and flourishes that do nothing more than sit around looking pretty, and ditch characters and POVs that only wander around making noise and distracting from your true point.

It also entails shortening. Lots and lots of shortening. So so much shortening. Shortening your shortness, even.

Then, when you’ve whittled your missive down to the barest essentials, girding your loins and shortening even more.

old book, black and white book, gothic, dirt, moldering book, erin j bernard, ejb writing studio

But take heart: the pain and the pressure are … good for you. How’s that maxim go? You can’t make a diamond without first pressure-squeezing a few shards of sharp, splintery carbon out of your arsehole? Something like that, right?

It’s gonna smart. Sorry. But still you must press on with the tweaking and snipping and eliminating. Not just until you cry; until you’re writhing beneath your desk in sheer artistic agony. And then, afterward, you are going to uncurl from that fetal ball, wipe the snot and spit off your chin, stand up, fumble for your mouse, and click “Print.” You are going to look upon your work and you are going to see that it is good. Or, if not quite yet good, at least much better.

Then, you are going to sit your ass back down and do it again. And then again, and again, over days and weeks and months, until you’ve spun your thoughts into something pithy and precise and perhaps even beautiful.

This stuff pains the soul. If it didn’t, everybody would write. And everybody doesn’t write. At least not to the point of finishing or to publishing. That, in fact, is rare. Trust me.

So go ahead. Let it hurt. That means you’re doing it right.

old book, black and white book, gothic, dirt, moldering book, erin j bernard, ejb writing studio



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