All of the Articles I Didn't Want to Write

One of my favorite quotes about writing is by Don DeLillo, and it refers to the draft as a “hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless” infant. That is exactly how I've felt about certain pieces I've been commissioned to write over the years, not just when they were drafts, but when they were grown adults as well.

I wrote them anyway. They were tossed my way or slipped in under the door, hidden in a batch of other assignments. But basically, I wanted to take this opportunity to apologize for all of my defective infants—both those which have already come into the world and the ones which have yet to be born.

On almost any given day, there is at least one piece of writing that I really don't want to face. Maybe the topic is dull, or particularly difficult to research. It might be that I've already written a few thousand words and squeezing out even a hundred more seems like a physically painful chore.

Every ugly baby can be a lesson learned, but sometimes it's better to just take a nap, or a walk.

A few topics to fall beneath this umbrella of loser articles have previously included:

  • Olive oil trends
  • A history of Barbie dolls
  • The release of Sharknado 2
  • Entry requirements for cosmetology school
  • Possibly this article. We'll see.

But I just might have learned something about being a writer from these articles. I write between 700 and 5,000 words every day. Not all of those words will be my best, and sometimes I have to accept imperfection, letting small things slide to keep the bigger picture within the frame (To the person who commented on the misuse of the word “dissemble” my last LitReactor article: I am so genuinely sorry. I hope that you'll forgive me one day*).

*Editor's Note: I, too, apologize, to the readers and to Leah, for looking up the word and going... Eh, close enough... and leaving it as it.

Tips For Making Yourself Write Horrible Things

  • Use Netflix as bait. Watch an episode (or five) when you reach a word goal or finish a piece.
  • Use desserts/snacks as bait. I keep muffins handy at all times for this reason.
  • Do your most undesirable writing on a hardback chair or bench. Masochistically tormenting yourself will pan out in the end when you manage to meet that deadline. Avoid the bed at all costs.

Not every piece of writing is a winner, but every word that makes it onto the page is still an achievement, albeit a minor one. It's a reminder that writing is a job like any other; doing it every day makes it hard to truly enjoy, but every ugly baby is still a lesson learned.

Actually...

I came back to this article about a week after I wrote it, because I had a sneaking suspicion that it didn't make a tremendous amount of sense. I was basically correct (see my first bulleted list above). I came home from covering a lengthy local government meeting for a newspaper after a day of doing—what else? Writing articles. That's essentially why I pitched this piece. I wanted a chance this month to reflect on the troubles I've had lately, balancing writing and life. Instead, it ended up buried beneath a pile of work.

Overbooking yourself is one of the fastest ways to take the joy out of writing. It makes you write crazed, sleep-deprived drivel like this. Sometimes it's difficult to avoid. Assignments will come up quickly with short deadlines, and it's hard to say no to a paycheck that you figure could be easily squeezed in beside everything else. You can burn the midnight oil once in a while, right? No one will know that you cranked out those 800 words at 3 a.m.

Personally, I have a difficult time determining when to draw the line. I can't seem to say no. It has undoubtedly hurt the quality of my work in the past, and I'm sure it will again. So here's the actual lesson at the end of this strange, rambling monologue: every ugly baby can be a lesson learned, but sometimes it's better to just take a nap, or a walk, or to eat something that doesn't contain caffeine. Maybe save that lesson for another day and reclaim your humanity instead.

Image of Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
Author: Dani Shapiro
Price: $12.27
Publisher: Grove Press (2014)
Binding: Paperback, 240 pages
Leah Dearborn

Column by Leah Dearborn

Leah Dearborn is a bibliophile and bookseller from the frigid North Shore of Massachusetts. A graduate of the journalism program at UMass Amherst, she spends her spare time blogging about books (of course), history, politics, and events in the Boston area. Occasionally, she spits out something resembling fiction, and has previously served as a contributor to Steampunk Magazine. She collects typewriters and old novels and laments the fact that her personal library has outgrown her apartment.

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Comments

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel June 21, 2016 - 6:51am

I'm a technical writer. All joy of writing vanishes when I sit down and realize I will be walking someone through each and every step of the most horribly dull piece of software in the world. Software that is full of typos, which I must use because the document and the software must match. And of course I write for people making 3 times what I make yet don't understand how excel works.

It takes everything in my power to go home and actually read or write what I want to read or write. Every word that is mine is a little victory that I hope to shove in my employer's face one day. I will say, "You see this, this is what I should have been writing all along. Not your bullshit step by step shitty software guides."

But I must eat. I must pay my bills. So I drive my two hours every day to write shitty little guides for people who could not care less about art or writing. The same people who will read the bare minimum because reading to them is a painful labor.

However, this constant work has made me appreciate the suffering so many writers must face in order to produce their art. It has helped me realize that it's just what they/we/I do in order to do what we want. Society gets their pound of flesh, and we are allowed to show society how fat they're getting.

LeahD's picture
LeahD from Boston is reading The Devil In The White City June 21, 2016 - 10:11am

Nicely said, Jose. I hope you get a chance to shove those words in your employer's face. Making a living through writing (any kind of writing) is no easy feat and you deserve props for not giving up even when the day-to-day can be fairly painful at times.  

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami June 23, 2016 - 3:41pm

Articles are hard to write, give yourself a pat on the back just for doing it. A stronger person than I am.

Holly Slater's picture
Holly Slater from Cincinnati is reading The Rules of Attraction by Brett Easton Ellis July 1, 2016 - 7:22pm

Love your honesty here. It is a challenge to do what you love for a profession, because then it becomes something you have to do rather than want to do. For me, the light is in the projects I do enjoy working on. They are hidden in there amongst all the shit assignments I have to force myself through. I enjoyed this particular column, so you did something for someone in wirting it, at least. Thanks for sharing.