A Dirty Little Secret
by David Stahler Jr.
In my AP English Composition classes, we dig deep into the writing process. Of course, as a novelist, I get lots of questions from my students about writing and about what it means to be a writer. The same question often comes up when I give readings and book talks. There are lots of different answers I can give, but there’s one I especially like, one that, I admit, comes from the mischievous side of me.
“You want to know what it’s like to be a writer?” I ask. They all nod. “All right. I’ll tell you.” I pause for effect, smile as they all lean slightly forward in their seats. They don’t know what’s coming.
“It’s boring,” I say in dead-pan voice.
The reactions vary—gasps, shocked silence, often nervous chuckles—but there’s always a reaction. How could I say such a thing? How scandalous!
But it’s true. At least, it’s a truth. Not the only one. Not THE TRUTH about writing, but it’s something that rarely, if ever, gets talked about.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many wonderful things about being a writer. The feeling of holding the finished product in your hand is beyond incredible. Rereading a passage that you know you nailed can send shivers down your back. Finishing a hard day of writing with ten or fifteen good pages of manuscript behind you can give you an unbeatable sense of accomplishment.
But the actual process of sitting in front of your computer for six to eight hours at a time, chained to a glowing screen, typing and retyping the same sentence five different ways can be a tedious, mind-numbing process. I can usually think of twenty other things I’d rather be doing almost every time I sit down to work on a novel.
I tell this to my students when they complain about writing papers. Yes, it’s boring, it’s tedious. It must be acknowledged, absorbed, accepted, and then transcended. You’re bored writing a three page paper? Try a three hundred page novel!
And you know what? It’s okay. It’s in those moments of boredom, when time slows down, when you feel the crawl of existence, that the mind wanders, drifts into territory it might never journey to otherwise. It’s okay to be honest about the chore, the task. One doesn’t write for excitement, but for so many other, more important reasons.
So the next time you imagine your favorite author sitting down to write, realize that it’s not all glamour and dazzle. That there may even be a bit of restlessness, pitiful procrastination, groans of boredom or frustration happening at his or her desk. (Oh, we poor writers, suffering for your enjoyment!)
There are thrills, but they are few and far between. That’s what makes them so special.
Check out David's new YA book Spinning Out and check back for my review!