Writing Is Hard


First, watch this: Hamlet 2 preview (pay special attention around the 49-second mark).

Steve Coogan, playing Dana Marschz, beautifully captures the life of a writer in the overshadowed and under-acclaimed Hamlet 2 when he laments, “Oh my god, writing is so hard!”

Joseph Epstein in “Blood, Sweat, and Words” also considers this issue. “Some writers like to make a show of their struggle, thereby demonstrating just how great their own grit is. Perhaps the most famous among them was Gustave Flaubert, who wrote letter after letter to his mistress Louise Colet, groaning about the difficulties he encountered in composition: struggling all day over a paragraph, achieving no more than a single page after a full week at his desk. Would, one wonders, a wife have put up with so much complaining?” One does wonder about that wife, doesn’t one?

“What Flaubert is doing here is making it look hard, which for him it truly was. In doing so he has earned his place as one of the founders of the Sturm und Drang school of literary production. The S & D school holds that there is no good writing without vast internal storm and stress. To a somewhat lesser extent, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were of the S & D school, always dramatizing the wretched difficulties entailed in producing their art. That both were drinking men couldn’t have made the job easier.”

Yet Epstein is not an S & Der. “I have never liked to suggest that writing is grinding, let alone brave work. H. L. Mencken used to say that any scribbler who found writing too arduous ought to take a week off to work on an assembly line, where he will discover what work is really like. The old boy, as they say, got that right. To be able to sit home and put words together in what one hopes are charming or otherwise striking sentences is, no matter how much tussle may be involved, lucky work, a privileged job.” It’s also an often pay-less job.

Perhaps this is all a matter of discipline. I don’t have it, so writing as a profession is like working on an assembly line without hands.

How is writing not a struggle? Sure I’m doing it in a bathrobe, but you think resurrecting the past to obliquely analyze feelings and play host to painful ghosts is easy? And another thing…a friend recently said to me: “Elissa, writing is like giving birth: the hardest part isn’t when you are shoving it out; it’s when it won’t come.” That’s gross, but it’s also true.

See also: this scene.

Elissa Bassist edits the Funny Women column. She teaches humor writing at The New School and Catapult. Follow her on Twitter, and visit elissabassist.com for more literary, feminist, and personal criticism. More from this author →