Wise, but rude, writing advice and why it works
BY KEYSHA WHITAKER
“Writing is hard. For most writers, the financial rewards are few. I know the best I can hope for—and I hope for this daily—is a nice email from a stranger letting me know that something I wrote helped. Or moved them. Or made them laugh.” – Rachel Toor in “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Writers”
In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rachel Toor says she collects quotes about writing the way “other people curate home exhibits of cat figurines.” The reflections commiserate the tortured experience of writing or “bleeding on the page.” Toor writes, “George Orwell said, ‘Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.’ ”
And when that demon visits, woe be unto anyone within earshot. Some days Toor’s the complainer; on others she’s the complaint receiver, ready to listen then deliver an explextive-laden motivational speech to save the whiner from him or herself. On listening to a friend’s pity party speech, she writes , “When I realized he’d become a magnifying mirror of my own bad habits and irritating tics, I said to him: “Stop having so many feelings and just do the f-ing work.””
Like Toor, I’ve been both crab and consoler. Years ago when I lamented about life in general, an old friend often snapped, “Pull your head out of your ass.”
To this, I had no reply. Could I argue that my head-ass placement was justifiable? That it served some purpose, perhaps self-colonoscopy? No, just like I couldn’t deny my head was up my ass. In the moment I was stunned into silence, my last words hovered in the air like the hum of a tuning fork. Yes, a sound like that can only emanate from a dark, smelly, place disconnected from people, reality, and oxygen.
A couple days ago, a writer friend emailed me about waning interest in an article pitch she was working on. “I’m starting to notice that the longer I sit on something the more it starts to feel like not the greatest idea,” she said.
In the few seconds it took me to read the short sentence, I saw myself: the tendency to put roadblocks in my path, taking the opportunity away from others who would gladly do it for me. I’d read her pitch and knew it was a great idea. Why was she doubting herself? Why didn’t she see what I saw – how amazing she was? There was only one explanation.
“Pull your head out of your ass,” I typed and hit send.
There was internet silence for ten minutes, then the swoosh sound of new mail arriving: “Pulled it out. LOL. Thanks.”
Like Toor did for her friend and like her editor does for her at the end of the piece, we all need be reminded to “stop having feelings and just do the f-ing work,” whether that admonishment is found in a collection of almost-depressing quotes on the curse and calling that is writing or from a snide and swift email from someone who, like you, knows the pain of bleeding on the page.