Yesterday my boss handed out certificates for a paid day off–it’s something the company does for each department once a year, and April is our month. I said, I should probably use this before you hire someone for me to start training, right?

She just looked at me over the top of her glasses and signed my request. I’m so popular here.

Ah, who cares, because tomorrow is now a paid day off and I have scored myself a four-day stretch to hammer away at my revisions. I’m fairly certain you are as tired of hearing me talk about them as I am to be diving in once more. Revisions are a bitch.

I don’t know what I imagined writing to be before I took the plunge, but what I know now is that it is work. Difficult, painstaking work. When people hear I’m a writer, they say, Oh what fun! or, Wow you must really enjoy that! and they think I’m crazy to demur. I try to explain that I love the challenge of it, the puzzle, the quest to find an evocative phrase. I like to focus my attention on a problem and solve it. But writing is a twisted pleasure. It requires a sustained and weary trek through a mental swampland, every single day. It requires obsession and a certain intellectual masochism, and the kind of perfectionism your third-grade teacher tried to discourage when she had to pry that book report out of your small, sweaty fingers as you agonized over the distinction between ‘hop’ and ‘jump’. Words have to fucking matter. All of them, all the time. You’ve got to fiend for them.

You’ve got to be a superfreak in a jam-stained cardigan.

Chicken or egg. Did writing make you obsessive or did you hatch that way?

52 responses

  1. That is why I don’t write for money. And I am sure your husband is a lot more tired than we are. But, when you are making a shitload of money off your book… he can quit his job, move to a cooler city than Portland and worship you like the goddess you will then become… all because you fiend for your words.

    Perfection was my father’s middle name… I obsess way too much over words, punctuation and grammar… and I’m not getting paid.

    p.s I cannot picture you in a cardigan, and congrats on your paid-day-off… go to the park.

    • My husband knows nothing of my writing life, except that I spend far too much time in a cardigan.

      And why do I need to make that man a shitload of money before I become a goddess? These granny glasses are sexy, baby, and you should see what I can do for a pair of sweatpants. Hott.

  2. Hahaahhahahhahahahhhahaahhahhahahahahaahahahhhahahahahahhahahahhaaahahhhhahahhahahahahahahhaaa.
    Let me see. When I was a kid I had to walk to the shop every afternoon after school. It was 408 steps. I stepped on every crack in the sidewalk.
    A glass of water contained either 8 or 16 mouthfuls.
    I ate grapes. A lot of grapes. I peeled each one, ate the skin, then the flesh.
    And when I was14, 15, I’d sit in my dad’s little truck every Friday night waiting for him to come out of the pub and drink bottle after bottle of coke. By the capful. Like shots.
    Last time I stepped out of a car I turned around a full 360 degrees trying to trace a sound. I had to turn back the 360 degrees before I walked away because I felt inside out.
    Fuck. That makes me feel inside out now.
    I may have to turn around so I can go back to sleep.
    It’s 2.38AM and I’m obsessively commenting on your blog.
    Inside out.
    Shall I go on?

  3. “Did writing make you obsessive or did you come out of the shell that way?”

    I don’t know. I think I had to learn it. I think I thought it was going to be easy. It is not easy. Or it is more than easy. Spew is easy and one can be a writer who spews. But one can also be a writer who carefully crafts, and craft is hard.

    No no no I’ve got it wrong. Or I’m coming in the wrong door. Writing is like playing a musical instrument. The language is a writer’s instrument. To play it well takes study and practice. And patience and drive. And an odd combination of selfishness and selflessness.

    Then there’s this:

    “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” — Thomas Mann

    (It has taken me over twenty minutes to craft this little bit of spew. Count me obsessive now, and never mind from whence it came.)

    • That quote is priceless, though you’re pretty quotable yourself.

      I’ve been meaning to do a post about the selfish and selfless aspects of writing, but haven’t worked up the courage yet. The fact is, you have to be very selfish with your time if you want to be a writer. There is always something else to do, someone who needs or wants you, and it’s incredibly hard to consistently turn those people down. It’s selfish. Writing is selfish. But while you’re hoarding all that time, you’ve also got to lay your soul on the page and leave it there to be trampled.

      It’s like being a trauma surgeon, without the excitement or the redemptive life-saving bit. Or the money, prestige, respect . . .

      Fuck it. I need a different analogy.

    • Tetman, take twenty minutes and twenty hours and twenty years if you deem it worthwhile.
      You’re a wise man, and your particular music, even in blog comments, is always worth the wait.

      I can spew at 1,000 words an hour, or write what’s important to me at 100 an hour on a good day.

      Then there’s that 300 word piece I’ve spent over 100 hours on so far. Will it ever be enough?

      • “Then there’s that 300 word piece I’ve spent over 100 hours on so far. Will it ever be enough?”

        This, for me, is when I enter dangerous territory. It’s as easy to overcook a piece of writing as leave it raw, and I’ve been known to succumb to fits of self-loathing and dismantle work that had the potential to be good. Like giving yourself a haircut and finding it uneven, fixing it, then it’s uneven the on the other side so you fix that. . . . Before you know it, you’re fucking bald!

      • There was a typo in the company email box this morning: ‘vaccinations’ was written as ‘vacancies’. Mmm-hmm, a subliminal message from another fed-up employee.

        (I don’t know what that had to do with your comment. The connection made sense before I wrote it down.)

  4. Chicken, I guess. Though writing is the only thing that I obsess over. I’m perfectly happy to leave the dishes in the sink. Thank goodness for a husband who loads the dishwasher.

    • I hear you. My side of the bed is a war zone of pages and books and dried-up pens; my husband’s side has a jar of coins and an iPhone charger.

  5. I was never very good with words. I used to make up the definitions to suit my needs. The ironic part about that is that I would then get incredibly frustrated when nobody understood me.

    • I mispronounce words all the time. So many of them I know only from reading, and when I try to introduce them into conversation I end up sounding like a pretentious fool.

      • Me too!!!
        I left school at 14, and mispronounciate words all the time.
        The other day I told someone I’d just bought Scryve-ner.
        He was nice enough to ask “Isn’t it pronounced scrivener?”, rather than laughing uproariously and telling me I’m an idiot.
        That’s the sort of guy you want in your critique group…

      • I do the SAME thing. My reading vocabulary far exceeds my speaking. The worst is when you have the perfect word but can’t use it because you have no idea how to say it.

  6. I’m pretty sure I came out of the shell that way.

    Perhaps someone else has already asked, but are these revisions based on your conversation with your agent? That’s quick!

  7. I’m not obsessive, yet, and that’s yet another reason why I can’t call myself a writer, yet. Three “yet”s in the one sentence. Is that allowed :-).

    I’m feeling overawed by the writing talent demonstrated by the posts and replies here in Averil’s blog. They are presumably composed without the application of obsession, and turn out beautifully. Teri the pillow fluffer is one of many cases in point.

    In other news, I am very excited about being invited to a new critiquing group. The last few days I wrote nearly a thousand words in preparation for the first session. The group will be the turning point for me to bang out the necessary several hundred great words per day for six months, all on the one project. Right?

    I’d like to add that Mrs Cleanskin prefers a non obsessor, and that Portland is a very cool place to live.

    • Ooo, the new critique group sounds cool. I’ve never been part of anything like that, but I imagine it would be a good impetus to get yourself in the groove of writing every day.

      Laura’s got some hilarious snippets of the critiques she’s received over the years. My favorite is, “Find a better word.”


  8. I throw myself into things. Before the writing, I went to a pottery studio nearly every day. Before that, it was business, and before that, a different business.

    I like to focus on just one thing, though, so now that I’m writing a lot, I’m not doing much other art.

    You certainly are right about the “work” of it! Writing for an hour or so per day is fun. After three, it’s like banging rocks together, occasionally cracking one open.

    • I hear you. I do one thing and then I do it obsessively. And I’m certainly not one of those people who can multi-task.

    • The question I posted above is the perfect example of the obsession. I wrote it first as “come out of the shell” and changed it later to “hatch”–a better verb.

      Oof. It’s a blog post, superfreak. Relax.

  9. You explained the feelings I have about the nuts and bolts of writing, too. People who don’t love words might never understand.

    I think I hatched this way. I remember being wrapped in a blanket and held as someone walked with me. Cold air blew over my face as I watched the windows and ornate moulding on a building bob in my vision against a gray sky, but what I remember, specifically, about it, is an internal search. It must have been for language, because I only remember being moved by what I saw, and then the disappointment I felt when something warm fell across my sightline.

    I’m pretty sure that’s morphed over these many years into a much more complex search for the right words. I think I was always obsessive.

    • That’s a really cool memory to have retained, Ré. I remember bike rides with my mom and dad, sitting in a little chair behind the seat, with warm air on my face and the bike tire crunching over the gravel in the road. I don’t think I was worrying about language, but I do remember the satisfaction of seeing the light fade, all the vibrant colors becoming muted and harmonious, and associating that with the breeze and the sway of the bike.

      I think I’ve always been visually obsessive. Not so much with writing until recently.

  10. I’m the egg too. I think I’m more like Ms. Marshmallow and Teri though. It isn’t specific to writing but specific to whatever obsession I’m working on. I mean really, what on earth do I need to be perfecting my Minion clay people, or my Elmo cakes for??
    I get hyperfocused and it’s all over…

  11. My first memory of a major obsession was when I was about 3yrs. old. I HAD to have my doll swaddled correctly or I’d pitch a fit. Once, my grandmother didn’t do it right and I freaked and threw the doll at her. She screamed how I was a hateful child and, “I hope you have a daughter just like you someday!” I did. My grammy & I chuckled about it decades later. So yes, for me it’s in the genes.

    • The curse that always works.

      I got sent to my room a lot, which I believe my mother intended as punishment. But there were books in my room. . . .

  12. I have always been obsessive. But obsessive sounds so negative. Focused? (I once had a friend who, every time someone pointed out a flaw in her character, would respond, “It’s part of my charm.”)

    • Cracking up (ha, get it?) over that. Marry me, Lisa. I’m going to keep asking until you say yes and I am guaranteed a clean house forevermore.

  13. I totally hatched as an adorably obsessive-compulsive worrywart nerd-freak. It was meant to be and there’s not much I can do to change it, so I accept it.


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