No matter how many years you devote to the craft of writing, one question will always still haunt you. This one question pops up when you’re in the middle of writing a scene, and also when you’re lying in bed at night wrestling with self doubt. You might think you have the answer, or a whole set of answers, to this one question, but it always comes back around again. The question is…
Why is writing so hard?
Years ago, when I was just starting out putting the pen to the page, I thought it was hard because of all the things I didn’t know. I thought it was hard because I had never written a novel before, or because I needed to learn more about story structure or character development. I read writing guides and studied the masters and practiced, practiced, practiced.
Still, writing was damn hard.
It wasn’t until I had many years under my belt as a writer that I began to see a glimmer of the truth behind that gnarly question. The answer I had been searching for (and that always seemed to evade me) was that writing was so damn hard because the more I wrote, the further I dug down into myself. The pages I watched pile up, filled with the huge river of words that had come gushing out of me, were all fragments and pieces excavated from my soul.
This was a pretty heavy realization.
What made it harder was that I found out quickly that not a whole lot of “writing experts” talk about this part of the process. Most creative writing teachers (whether online or in person) talk about the knowledge side of things—structure, craft, vocabulary, etc. Don’t get me wrong, knowledge IS important. But you also need the other side of the story to get the whole picture. In order to become a better writer, or even just a practicing writer, you need to know about the emotional, magical, unpredictable, messy, and beautiful side of writing too.
Enter my new all-time favorite writing guide, Albert Flynn DeSilver’s elegant little powerhouse: Writing as a Path to Awakening.
Divided into 12 chapters that help writers create their own yearlong process to become a regularly practicing writer, Writing as a Path to Awakening shows us how to write into ourselves, and all those stories we believe make up our identities and our lives. The books starts in January with “Rebirth” and creatively cycles through all of the seasons until we end with December as “Sanctuary.” As a sensitive intuitive writer, this hit home for me in a big way. I have always felt connected to the seasons. Even the slight change in the air as we pass from the end of one season to the next affects me and influences what kind of creative projects I want to pursue at that time. DeSilver’s book tapped into this part of me that feels deeply connected to the rhythms of nature and showed me how to use it to increase my own creative fertility.
I also loved that each chapter ended with a guided meditation geared toward getting the writing juices flowing. Meditation is something I suggest to all my clients and I’m usually met with the same level of resistance DeSilver talks about in his book. Many people have assured me that they “can’t” meditate because they think they’ll go crazy with boredom, or they’re “just not wired that way.” I was in love with the way DeSilver gives very concrete, practical instructions on where to focus the mind and what to visualize to keep the writer on track while also relaxing into the exercise. DeSilver then recommends the writer go directly from meditation into freewriting—another strategy I’ve found great success with in the past. There’s nothing like quieting the mind, and then emptying your guts out onto the page.
The biggest reason I really couldn’t put the book down though—and the thing that drew me in closer and closer—was how DeSilver shares parts of his own life throughout all the exercises and helpful explanations. He talks about his traumatic childhood, his painful adolescence and young adult years, and the surprising discoveries he made about himself later in life. As a writer who is just now fully facing my own demons, I connect very strongly with other creative people who have hiked through this rocky, and sometimes ugly, terrain.
That’s the very hardest part of this extremely hard thing we call writing: Being honest. It’s also part of the answer to the question I was asking above, “Why is writing so hard?” Because being totally honest about what you think and feel and how you see the world is sometimes a nearly impossible task. That’s why I love this book so much, and that’s why I’ll be recommending it to every single one of my writer clients. Because DeSilver tells the truth about that messy beautiful side of the writing process: It isn’t easy, and sometimes it hurts.
Albert Flynn DeSilver is an American poet, memoirist, novelist, meditation teacher, speaker, and workshop leader. He is also the author of Writing as a Path to Awakening: A Year to Becoming an Excellent Writer and Living an Awakened Life. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.