The True Joy of Writing

A lovely student and friend of mine told me yesterday that she didn’t really like to write. She just wanted to have written a book that would be held in the collection at the Library of Congress. She was hurrying through the writing to get to the product.

With much due respect—I admire this person tremendously and she is a fantastic writer—I think this is absolutely the wrong way to go about it. Upside down, in fact.

I admit that writing is hard. It is labor. And it can be massively frustrating at times—and frustrating for months or even years at a time. And each kind of writing provides its own special and exquisite tortures: memoir writing the pain of reliving certain better-forgotten parts of the past; biography-writing the problem of dealing with the chaos and infinitude of research; travel writing the challenge of picking out the right details from the many, and on and on—and all forms have the uber-ordeal of finding the right structure. Until that is discovered you’re mucking about in the murk.

But, but, but, the truth is, at least on my end, having written and published three books spaced apart by ten years that took nearly all those years to write (smushed as they were into a life of day jobs, child-rearing, elder care, etc. etc.,) and that drove me to explosion point many times along the way, I have to say: The writing is the pleasure.

The writing is the pleasure. I say it again, and it is worth saying many times. For—in my experience, and I think most who willingly write know this in their hearts: writing is transcendence. There is nothing like the transport of being somewhere—you know not where—carried away in the act of putting words on a page (or screen). This is bliss. This is true joy.

I have had three major books published (major for me, is what I mean—hundreds of pages between covers that represent masses of work) and it is absolutely a wonderful thing, and a shot of incomparable pleasure, and a sense of Hurray!, of accomplishment, to hold one’s published book in one’s hands. Absolutely this is true. And worth working toward, and achieving.

But, but, but—again. The difference between writing a book and being published is that: between loving and being loved, between giving and receiving, between activity and passivity, between substance and superficiality, between happiness and wealth. I know this can sound facile, and being loved—of course; receiving gifts and recognition from others; sitting around; passing ice cream-pleasures; and money are essential, in fact they are musts in a satisfying life, but they don’t compare in reliability and depth to the flow, to the loving, giving, active, nourishing, and pouring joy of absorbing work.

The act of trying to express oneself in writing is one of those kinds of work that is delicious. My brother in-law, a fine furniture maker says, “Work is fun and tools are toys.” That’s it: Writing is play. Writing is delight. The book in the hand, yes, that is good, and very good. But quickly laid down to get back to and on to the real delight: the next now agonizing-now pleasing writing bout.

On the other hand, I did hear a top-of-the-charts pop star say she did think fame and being cheered by a crowd of a hundred thousand might actually be better than sex. Something to really strive for…

A final observation to my dear friend: I must note that she, herself, spends her days right now at the Library of Congress, doing research for her book. Which is better, really: To spend pass your own days scribbling in that vast and beautiful realm yourself, or to have a book there?