Writing Is Not Hard Work
December 15, 2015 § 44 Comments
A guest post from Mike Minchin:
Let me tell you what hard work is: bending over in a field of low-bush, wild blueberries, your back arced so you can slide a forty-tooth rake like fingers under the bushes and pull back, settling the berries and tiny green leaves into the rake, then dumping them into a five-gallon bucket at your side, only to lug the bucket three hundred yards to the sorting machine where you lift it onto a wooden trailer and the man stamps a star-shaped hole in the card you keep in your back pocket, the card already soaked through with sweat and eight more hours to go, the sun like hot coals on the back of your neck, your shirt already tossed on the ground beside the gallon of water you froze the night before, the only thing that will keep you going through the wasp-riddled, poison-ivy laced field.
Writing is not hard work. I’m talking about writing, not Facebooking, workshopping, copyediting, tweeting, submitting or, my least favorite activity, writing cover letters, but writing, that essential listening, that patience with words, hearing the voices come, seeing a scene come to life in front of your eyes, sitting at a computer until the computer falls away like the page of a good book falls away, until the screen becomes clear like the surface of a pond after rain so that someone looking into the water can see the rotting logs and Budweiser cans on the bottom and the fish swimming around. The act of creation has nothing to do with hard work. Writing is, to me, a beautiful, liberating process that feels unlike any work I have ever done in my life.
I write early in the morning until my kids get up. And then I work all day, no longer in the blueberry fields as I did when I was fifteen, but in a hospital caring for patients. Writing is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. I would trade almost anything to have more time to write, and finding the time is hard. But I read and hear all the time about how hard writing is, and though I can understand this on one level, fundamentally the tired notion that writing is hard work seems counterproductive at best. Writing certainly takes patience, effort, dedication, a focusing of attention. It can be emotionally exhausting, absolutely. And the business side of writing—don’t even get me started. It’s work, sure. But sitting down in a café or a dark closet with a cup of coffee or nip of schnapps and musing about your next novel is anything but hard work.
Let me tell you what hard work is: twenty-two hour shifts in an Alaskan cannery with earplugs in your ears, your rain gear covered in bloody fish guts, a knife in your gloved hands, though you can’t feel your hands for the icy salmon that keep pouring onto your cutting board, and you can’t hear the supervisor yelling at you to work faster, though you can see her lips, and you know she means business because she sent two workers home yesterday, and they had to pay their airfare back to wherever they came from, and so you work faster, cutting fins, stripping the pink membrane from inside each fish so that no one who buys a can of cooked meat will have to eat the membrane, though you know some will, and then you sleep for two hours and get up again and somehow keep going all summer, until you can’t feel your feet on the concrete floor and the sound of birds is amazing when you are finally done and realize you have lived in a beautiful place and seen almost nothing except a concrete floor and the inside of fish.
The next time you sit down to write and become frustrated, resist the temptation to complain to yourself about how hard writing is. What you are attempting is not hard work; it is divine; it is not taking the trash to the end of the driveway; it is lightness; it is not shoveling snow all day; it is a joy, and if you are patient and let it be what it is without asking anything of it, it is beautiful and necessary and utterly worthwhile. But it is not hard work.
Mike Minchin’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine, Vermont Magazine, Green Writers Press, and Mud Season Review. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has received Honorable Mention in the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers and the 2015 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. He is the winner of the 2015 Vermont Writers’ Prize. He earned his MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2014.