The Pain of Writing

I want to talk today both in the first person and about the pain of writing. As in: the literal pain. I don’t feel like I ever hear anyone discuss it, let alone make mention of it off-handedly. Even if only as a passing “joke.” And though I know Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” it hasn’t gotten easier on a physical level over time. Granted, I’ve always been well-prepared to bleed in the emotional sense he was referring to… although sometimes I wonder at how much I’ve overshared on the internet for free when being vulnerable only feels worth the risk if a multimillion-dollar book deal is at play (as Britney Spears knows). But again, that’s probably just the innate brainwashing of the free-market setup we’ve been conditioned to understand “worth” in. 

Maybe I don’t hear about the physical demands of writing very often because many of the writers I orbit are not fiction-oriented (no offense to the poets, who, if we’re being candid, have a slightly more manageable situation in terms of the need for endurance). And, to boot, most of them don’t have the luxury to spend the majority of their day doing it, what with money to be made and capitalism to be bowed to. Plus, fucking forget about devoting a concentrated block of time to writing if you have kids… unless, of course, you’re a man and the burden of child care still isn’t generally placed squarely on your shoulders. As for myself (childless and proud), I would say that I spend, at the minimum, four hours a day doing some variety of writing (though many people do not count what is still derisively referred to as “blogging”). That can rack up some chronic trauma, much as I would prefer not to think about it. Or how I must look like the Hunchback of Notre-Dame as I sit perched over my laptop in deep contemplation.

As anyone who has been forced into going to school, taking an international flight or doing office work knows, the discomfiture of sitting for long periods of time is part of the issue. The toll on one’s lower back, the difficulty of sitting still without fidgeting in order to find “the perfect position”—which does not exist. It’s also hard to know what’s worse: having to sit as an office worker (where “at least” you get paid, because, once more, everything is about money) or as an “aspiring” writer (being that you cannot simply say you are a writer in this society without being compensated for it). Though with the latter, you’ll have something tangible and meaningful to show for your toil rather than the busy work on Excel sheets signifying nothing. 

In addition to the back problems that come with a determined, indefatigable lust for writing, there are also the wrist problems (repetitive wrist motion leading to carpal tunnel and such). And eventually, the arthritic bones in your hands. I reckon it wasn’t much better when people were left no option but a quill pen and paper or a typewriter. Recently, and despite his racist, eugenics-happy past, I visited the Jack London museum in Glen Ellen. Among many of his personal possessions on display was a typewriter, with a description card beneath it that mentioned, no matter what, he always wrote a thousand words a day. To be frank, that sounds like child’s play to me, but then I have to take into consideration the more time-consuming physical demands of using a typewriter or hand-writing the prose to come up with these one-thousand words. I imagine, in this sense, writing was even more challenging before the advent of personal computers (or, for those who can afford them, ergonomic chairs). And maybe that’s part of why so many writers had a drinking problem—alcohol is a great numbing agent for emotional and physical pain.

But in this current epoch, where sobriety has garnered some amount of steam in chicness, I wonder if another aspect of the pain experienced more “intensely” in the present comes from the long-standing boomer accusation that every generation after them is “soft.” Expectant of things to be “easy” or “comfortable,” when life was never truly designed to be like that, no matter how many “conveniences” are created to falsely convince us otherwise. Or maybe they were all in constant pain back then, too. Without the societal sanction to talk about it freely. But I want to talk about it. Because this is a part of writing that is also minimized and belittled. No one seems to acknowledge the bodily rigors of the art that are just as off-putting about the medium as the mental aspect of it (so again, one has to ask why there are so many writers in the world when, in every way, it is patently one of the most masochistic things a person can do). 

I just want to know I’m not alone in my physical pain for this goddamned “enterprise.” Does anyone else ache as much for the sake of writing as I do? Can we form a collective where we lie on our backs (because sitting is too much) and compare pains of the day? Sometimes, I bend my knee and place my foot under my ass cheek for sitting variety. Then I find that creates a new pain point as well. Sometimes I lie on my stomach. Sometimes I stand. I try as much as possible to, as Ariana would say, “switch the positions.” But the pain lingers. The body remembers. And the mind reels at what I’m doing to the body for the sake of self-expression in a climate where everyone wants to scream the loudest to have their voice heard.

2 thoughts on “The Pain of Writing

  1. In ‘Complaint’ and ‘Dialogue’ Thomas Hoccleve makes similar statements about the mechanics, the posture and the labour of writing. That’s the first thought that came to my mind after reading your text.

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