The Guilt-Ridden Writer’s Confession

a writer and his page

My general theory since 1971 has been that the word is literally a virus.
~ William S. Burroughs

Writing is a strange and dangerous calling.

I do mean calling. Like Burrough’s word virus, the craft of writing compels us to it in a way that is beyond our ability to resist.

A writer writes.

A writer who does not write inevitably descends into a booze, coffee, sex, nicotine and/or guilt-driven world of pain. Steven Pressfield has covered this ground well.

If you’ve got the touch, the way with words, I’m betting you understand what I’m saying. I’m also betting you’re nowhere near having it “together” as a writer.

Maybe you’re making a living at this word game, maybe not. Maybe you’ve got more readers, clients, and fans than you could ever want, maybe not. Either way, if you have the virus, you will not stop.

Problem is, even when things are “going well” on the page, things are not necessarily well with the writer. We are a small band of laborers working in a muddy field, unable to find the road through the fog.

The dangers of answering this call are immediately replaced with the difficulties of executing it, even for the stoics among us.

Remember, we’re talking about Burrough’s virus here. A virus cannot be killed, but it can be contained. Living with this one is often incredibly difficult.

Tell me if any of these hold a mirror to your own experience:

  • You have the steady suspicion that you’re more fraud than writer
  • You’d rather do anything, anything than sit down and write
  • You look at your “body of work” and conclude that you have simply wasted years of your life
  • You talk about writing more than you sit your ass down to do it
  • The crushing guilt of not working “enough” has become almost too much to bear
  • You stare at walls, floors and ceilings for extended periods of time, and then run to the television
  • Your best work is brutally criticised, or worse, brutally ignored
  • Despite all of this, you cannot stop writing

That last one is the ticket. It is also something like an answer.

Persevere.

There’s no fix here. In a way, you’re damned if you do your work, and damned if you don’t.

I only offer to open the doors of this little digital confessional to see who walks through with me.

Do you have this virus?

Are you often stumbling through the fog?

Go ahead and give it to me in the comments, any schemes, disciplines, or antivirals you’ve devised to live with this horribly sublime little bug called the word

About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.

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Comments

  1. Robert:

    Good thoughts today on the writing process and how to keep it going.

    I will just make an observation on writers not writing will descend into alcohol, etc. It’s also a noted fact that some great writers used excessive drinking to stimulate the creative writing juices. Please note that I’m not recommending to drink large quantities of alcohol – just making an observation.

    Randy

  2. Bruce, you nailed it with this post. It’s a virus and our stingy muses have the antidote. I started a creative writing site (click my name) to beat my muse into giving me regular antidote injections. At first my muse was a b!tch to convince, but now it is a slave to my demands and does what I command.

  3. Doesn’t every writer secretly suspect that they’re not as good as it appears?

    It’s what drives us to do better.

    • Not every writer does, but every good writer seems to.

      • Fair point, well made.

        It’s actually really reassuring to hear people admit it. I’ve spent ages staring at blank pads or white spaces on a screen, wondering why anyone would pay me to fill them.

        Then I found out that a writer I really respect has exactly the same things running through his mind, and it’s really set me at ease.

        I’m still paranoid that one day I’ll be exposed as a charlatan, but not quite as much as I used to be.

      • I’m stealing that line Sonia, for something, somewhere.

      • Jessica Poundstone :

        Broadcast News/ Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks): “I feel like I’m slipping, but do people who are actually slipping feel that way, or is it always the really good people who are moving up who invariably think they’re slipping because their standards are so high?”

      • Love this comment. Occasionally I run into a writer who self-professes greatness. I’m always shocked and skeptical when I hear that, because inevitably I find that their writing sucks.

        Really great writers will admit that they are successful (lots of readers, book sales, etc.), or they have something to say. But rarely do they believe that they are great.

  4. Amen. Always good to hear I am not alone in my journey as a writer!

  5. I’m a mess when I don’t write. I’m grouchy, irritable, and I wander around the house in misery. Thankfully, my husband understands and asks me if I have enough chocolate. For me, my biggest frustration right now is working a day job that I don’t love and writing on the off-hours. I’d much rather write full-time. But wouldn’t we all?

    It IS a virus, one that will never, ever go away for me. I honestly have no idea what I’d do if I couldn’t write.

  6. Writing is creating art just as much as painting a picture is creating art.

    I know, because I do both. Funny though, my writing experience is a tad different from yours, Robert.

    I’d rather site down and write, than do anything else.
    I look at my “body of work” and conclude that it was time well-invested.
    I love talking about it, but I love doing it even more.
    I work my ass off, and don’t feel guilty a bit.
    I stare at walls to think. Then I look back at the keyboard and keep writing.
    And because of this, I keep writing.

    No, some days it’s like you say. It’s not all roses. But when you create the very best art you’re absolutely possibly capable of, from the ten thousand foot view …

    it’s awesome.

  7. I am not only a blog writer….

    I am a novelist.

    And I am an artist.

    So most of those comments are a bright, shining, unconcealing mirror!

    Yikes!

  8. How many times have I started a writing job, and after sometime, got hysterical and jaded and quit the job and vowed never to set any foot into a writing job ever again, only to run back into its familiar, loving arms a few months later?

    And the best part is, every time I tell my friends that I’m going to stay far away from a writing career, they all throw patronizing looks at me – till I’m back in again and they go, “WE KNEW IT! C’mon Sue, you can’t stop writing. It’s in you.”

    But the beauty of it all is that every time I come back, I see myself getting better.

    I suppose we all need to fight with our gifts every once in a while, just to form a better relationship with them.

  9. Well written. I literally laughed out loud at one of the bullet points. There is no cure but to further immerse yourself in the madness. Thanks for the post.

  10. My favourite way of avoiding actual writing is to spend my time reading blog posts about writers’ avoidance techniques.

  11. Robert,
    You said it. I am infected, and I dearly hope I’m contagious as hell, too. It’s a very strange disease, indeed, because there are some times when I want to just scrap the whole idea and get lost in the mundane day-to-day, but I always end up finding myself sitting there thinking, “that would make a great story” or “jeez, that ad sucks. I could have…” and there it is again!
    The only redeeming quality I can imagine is that, every now and then, like a tiny little spark in the middle of a coal-black night, someone notices, reads, appreciates and (perhaps) grows a little bit thanks to something I felt compelled to transfer from thought to page or screen.
    And that kinda rocks, you know?

    Thanks again!

  12. one word: deadlines!
    they work for me

  13. You may be a writer if you struggle to write? It sounds a little counter-intuitive.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one for whom writing can sometimes be like getting teeth pulled though.

    The last couple years I’ve had huge motivational and discipline problems with writing.

    It’s stil what I do best though.

  14. “Yup.” “Yup”. “Yup.”….were my consistent replies as I worked my way down your list of questions. Which leads me to ask, if I’m avoiding writing at all costs in a myriad of ways, am I still “writing”, as in your last question, if it’s mostly in my head?

  15. Yes, I have the virus too.

    And it’s spreading. My sister has started writing and emailing it to me for my opinion.

    If I could sit all day and write, I would. I would also have a maid to do everything else for me. Oh, I would be wealthy.

    But it doesn’t matter. We are compelled and no one understands that but another writer.

    Great post!

  16. I loved this post!

    I am constantly haunted by writing. I write all day for work but there is this little gremlin following me around all day and poking me. He says things like, ” why don’t you start your own copywriting business,” or “why aren’t you writing fiction” and “why can’t you think up a good idea for a blog and stick with it.” As soon as I decide to listen to him and do something about his incessant nagging he screams in my face, kicks me in the shins and laughs. No matter how much I run from that little f&#@er he shows up. The only way to shut him up for a few minutes is to write. Sheer torture.

  17. Great post!

    You have the steady suspicion that you’re more fraud than writer <- Absolutely! My cure for this is rereading my novel. I often forget about the 2 years of editing that went into it.

    You’d rather do anything, anything than sit down and write <- This is not me. I'd rather write than do anything else.

    You look at your “body of work” and conclude that you have simply wasted years of your life <- Yup. My cure for this symptom, again, is to reread my work. Often, I'm so surprised by my own work, that I find myself not believing that I wrote the texts that I'm reading.

    You talk about writing more than you sit your ass down to do it <- No, I've always found this annoying in others, so I avoid doing it as much as possible.

    The crushing guilt of not working “enough” has become almost too much to bear <- Yes. Absolutely. I constantly find myself raging against the thieves of time (work, family, friends, etc) and that definitely fills me with guilt.

    You stare at walls, floors and ceilings for extended periods of time, and then run to the television <- Yeah, but in all fairness, to quote one of my faves: "What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he's staring out of the window." ~Burton Rascoe

    Your best work is brutally criticised, or worse, brutally ignored <- Yup. However, this passes. A career as a writer always starts with 'ignored' which leads to 'brutally criticised' which leads to 'published'. This is just part of the game, I think. Don't let it get you down, folks.

    Despite all of this, you cannot stop writing <- And that's what makes a writer a writer.

    Thanks for the fantastic post! Made my day.

    Chris

  18. I’ve never looked at writing as a virus, I’ve only looked at it at a wonderful gift that so few people possess. I’ve got a lot of friends, family and co-workers who have troubles writing things. I love using this gift to help them get their job done or make their life a little happier. It’s almost like a super-power. :-)

    I’m going to take a page from Martyn and comment on what I see when I look in the mirror.

    * I have the building confidence that I am a writer and should be doing it more often and trying to find that drive I need to write.

    * The only thing that I don’t want to write is boring ad copy, especially when its for a product I don’t fully believe in.

    * I look at everything I’ve written and see not only a window to my past but how much I’ve matured as a writer

    * I do talk about writing more than I sit on my ass to do it.

    * The only crushing guilt i have is the fact that I don’t write more often and fully utilize my gift

    * I stare at the television for extended periods of time as I watch TV shows and movies that help foster the creative energy in me as well as inspire me in my writing. So many of this years Best Picture nominees are incredibly inspiring movies that have given me incredible insight into writing. Especially “The Social Network”, “Toy Story 3″, “The Fighter”, and “The King’s Speech”.

    * As hard as it is I take any criticism and use it as fuel to write more and write better.

    I can’t stop writing because it’s part of me and always will be. It’s great if I make money from it, but if not it’s something that makes me happy as well as incredibly cheap therapy at times.

    Some days are better than others but I’ll never stop because to do so would be equivalent to killing part of myself off.

  19. I’ll make a confession, I began freelance writing because the task of gut-level creative writing was too painful a ride for me. I thought I could replace the drive to write with a different kind of writing.

    Soon I was writing thousands of words a day where before it would be like pulling teeth with a rubber band to get a few hundred words down. Thousands, yes, but they weren’t MY words. Not really.

    The words which want to be born continue to gnaw at my gut. They won’t stop torturing me until I put them on paper…at which time, of course…and herein lies the dirty virus’ trick…the real torture will begin.

    I enjoy my business and continue to take it in new directions. I love studying the importance of words and the impact they can have in everything we do. However in the end, it will be the means to my writing those stories still screaming for freedom. I can only delay the symptoms, never evade.

    Yes, there was some mirroring in this post for me. And I’m reminded of the words of a dear friend and talented writer “Fuck words.”

  20. Love this. And, now I feel overwhelmingly guilty that I took the time to read this post and then I am taking more time to craft a half-way intuitive response hopefully without a large number of grammar errors, for which I also feel guilty if I leave undone.

    Discipline is definitely the hardest because there are just WAY too many distractions and yet, write we must. My struggle is how to balance short-term paid writing – that actually pays the bills – with working on the novel I am writing (that is going to be totally awesome – if I finish it in this lifetime or any of the sequels which will naturally flow from the well of creative genius I am still searching for.) Ah, the struggles of a budding writer.

    And now, I think I’m hungry. No.. No. . .. must write. . .must finish goals. Food comes later.

  21. A great post, Robert. Thank you. Despite two, traditionally published books, dozens of essays (with a few poems and articles thrown in the mix), and over 7000 views on my blog,

    I have 4 manuscripts languishing in the file drawers waiting patiently for me to resurrect and revise them. When I moved from Wyoming and lost the fabulous writing group to which I belonged (and have yet to replace), and earning money via my writing career (I’ve been leading writing retreats for 14 years), I have never gotten back into a consistent writing schedule. And I’m a writing coach!

    2011 is my “two for one” year – for every two client chapters I work on, I’ve promised to work on one of my own!

  22. “You have the steady suspicion that you’re more fraud than writer” – that hit home. I have just admitted to myself that I am a writer, and I actually get paid to do it, writing for my “real” job. I’m getting brave enough to say “I’m a writer” not my official title.” I tend to read more of other folks’ stuff rather than write off the job.

    • Christine – well said. Why do we have to “admit” that we’re writers? We should say it loud and proud, with confidence! (Though I have the same trouble you do).

  23. So true, so true. It is the same for the visual artist.

    I will do anything to not create. Cleaning my toilet in fact.

    Thanks for the great post. You nailed it!

    • Hi Mary,
      Please click through on my name and scroll down to the blog post with the devil illustration. I’m not prowling for commenters but I wrote a whole piece about how I frequently put off writing to clean my toilet :-) I’m glad someone else is crazy that way.

      Writing is definitely a virus. It wouldn’t bother me too much if it weren’t for the physical symptoms such as pale skin, poor eyesight, frown lines from squinting at a page/screen and those purple dents you get on either side of your nose when you’ve been wearing glasses for all eternity.

      I don’t think I’d really want to be cured though.

      Great post, thanks :-)

  24. I am comforted in a way to see that I am not alone in the journey. I always feel that I am not writing enough, or good enough to bother continuing. Sometimes the work I have scheduled will make me run from the computer and hide, although I usually run to a good book instead of the television. Even when I’m hiding, I find my mind returning to the subject I was last struggling to write about.

  25. You know me too well! I would rather write ads for peanuts, beer or both, than get a ‘proper’ job. Whilst there are days I would rather have colonic irrigation than write anything, thankfully there are 2 very good reasons why that can’t happen.

    1) I have to write or I don’t get paid.
    2) Because of reason numero uno, I have a damn near rocket proof way to overcome ‘writers block’
    3) Yes I know I said two reasons, but I always under promise and over deliver! yes, reason number three is that I am incapable of doing anything else and virtually unemployable in any case!

    I love what I do, but once again Robert, your post was bang on the money, and I sat here reading it, alternating between nodding my head sagely and shaking it in rueful recognition.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a blog post to write, an ad to re-write and a stunning trilogy on the trials and tribulations of the domestic cat to ‘knock out’ …

  26. I started my blogging journey some 5 years back when I was in college. I tried hard but my English was sick at that time and comments on first few blog posts truly proved it. My first two years of blogging got me nothing money wise but I could see my hunger to write and continue to write. After my grad I wrote. During my job I wrote. I wrote when I was ill. I wrote when I was going through a break up. I wrote on valentine’s day. I have earned a lot of dollars from freelance writing but the money thing forced me to stat away from my blog. Same is the reason why my blog still isn’t huge though it has all the potentials to be one.

    Though I am software engineer yet I read blogs and write something someday or the other. I agree that I have spent a lot of time writing and I think that I have everything that it takes to be full time blogger but I still like my writing skills. I still like the plain old English that I use. I still don’t like the few grammatical errors that I make. I still don’t like my articles.

    My article will soon be published on an A-List blog soon and that I am assuming is going to give new direction to my blogging journey. Fingers crossed and I ain’t flying.

    I am not a software engineer .. I never was!

  27. Great stuff Robert! For me, instead of guilt-ridden, I would swap insecure. No matter how hard I work at my writing I am never confident it it good enough. I can go back to anything I’ve written and tweak it to make it “better”. The English language doesn’t make it any easier — I give up on figuring out what the heck a dangling participle is!

    For those who have the bug — writing is therapy that is always a work in progress, right?

  28. Robert Bruce–your accuracy annoys and comforts me at the same time. grrrr
    Ticked off and giving you a high 5…

  29. There’s a connection here with other art forms. The best comedians don’t consider themselves all that funny. The best painters are filled with self-doubt. The best architects seem always to wring their hands in worry. That small grain of irritation, combined with an innate desire of never settling and a dash of social phobia, is what makes a writer great.

  30. It is not just writing, it is the whole creative spectrum that flows through my self and into the world.

  31. I had a creative writing teacher in high school that said, “Start writing and in 20 years if your still writing, then you’re a writer.” Thoughts?

    I love it when I’ve crafted that one line or paragraph to say exactly what I mean. And it drives me insane when the rest of the words aren’t as good. Is it too much to hope that any one work would contain only the best and perfect words? Arrggh!

  32. If writing is a virus, then completing a writing task is like taking a drug to counteract that virus…..one that will give you a “writer’s high”…..especially when you know you’ve nailed it.

  33. Good points Robert. I see-saw between struggling to keep a balanced family life, and getting my ass kicked occasionally from criticism of a given post. However, if the road was easy it would be much more traveled.

    Life is too short in my opinion, to let the freedom of self-expression pass us by. The struggle is worth beating the resistance, if the desire to succeed is a daily state of mind.

    Thanks for the post.

  34. You absolutely have no idea how entirely encouraging this article is to me at this moment.

    Words fail me.

  35. If it’s a virus, it needs the right medicine? Now that former recreational weed is called medical, why not a Medical Manuscript? Write one and call me in the morning.

    My trick is to filter everything I write through a particular screen. Amateur wrestling seems an odd choice, but it’s my choice. Conflict, drama, a certain ending with the anticipation of it all happening over, just like writing. Even when you’re done, you’re not done. My hat’s off to any one book wonder, it’s one more than most, but what was Harper Lee thinking?

  36. Writing is like a drug I started late in life… I never knew I could do it and now that I am, I can’t seem to stop. It has opened things up for me in ways that I never imagined possible. The only way to quit now is maybe to try one of those 12 step programs…. hmm….

  37. It’s creating, making, kicking anthills. I’m a fraud half the time, and the other half the time I’m doing good work. Best not to think about myself in terms of my last project.

  38. “A writer that does not write inevitably descends into a booze….” should be “A writer WHO does not….”

    It’s my mission. That, and ridding the world of the misplaced apostrophe; eradicating the use of “their” for his, her and its; and stomping out the word “notate” where it’s used instead of “note” and “orientate” for “orient.”

  39. Ohhh the power of the written word!

    It is the art of communication but can at the same time lack so much!

    Like voice inflection, expressions, body language…etc.

    But when we see these things painted with words, the magic happens!

    The reader is hooked –
    and a writer that can deliver this, truly has this virus you described!

    Can you write like that? How is it done?

    Robert

  40. I have two ways I express myself: writing and music. These feelings from this post apply in equal measure to both art forms. I hate being ignored. But then in my more ‘humble’ moments I wonder if it is a good thing when I am ignored.

    Authors are artists. They create a canvas in a different way from a painter.

  41. I don’t suffer your desease but feed from it. I am a hungry reader and your thoghts, stories or articles calm my appetite. Thanks for existing to all of you.

  42. Here’s something I started to do about two months ago, and it helped my mindset.

    I wrote down my constraints. My time constraints and other things that are holding me back from write, write, writing.

    I came to peace with all of my barriers. No one has it better than me, and the universe is not against me.

    Then I started to write within that little space allowed by my limitations.

    And guess what? My focus increased, and my production increased. I believe my quality also increased.

    Be clear. I didn’t overcome my limitations. I just called a truce with them so they wouldn’t battle with the opportunities I do have.

  43. I love the word. No, actually I hate it.

    No, I love it…

    Hate it.

    Ah, whatever.

  44. I think that if we didn’t doubt ourselves, as writers, we’d never strive to get better. I always feel like a fraud, right up until I get feedback that says ‘great job!’ or similar. And more importantly, even if I didn’t get feedback, I think I’d still write. I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon – I wrote in intensive care after a serious operation, while in hospital having both of my children and I think I’ll write until the day I can’t move my hands or can’t string together a coherent thought.
    I’m lucky enough to work as a copywriter too, so I get to do my job, study, and write the majority of my waking hours :)

  45. Hi Robert,

    A very timely article. I have had the virus since I can remember.

    It stalks the silence when I don’t yield to it. It pulses through my mind like a freight train one stop short of being derailed.

    It grants me the most beautiful moments of peace, fuels me with exhiliration, steals time and stretches it.

    We writers are readers, and we are only repaying a debt. With interest I hope.

    My advice is: stay a bit longer than is comfortable at your desk. When your mind is willing you away – one line from the end of the paragraph, or stanza – stay. Battle it out. I have found the best words come when you challenge yourself.

    “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd” – Voltaire.

    Push through the doubt. Do it.

    Conor

  46. Consider my amazement to discover that the little voice I’ve heard in my head for years is named Robert Bruce.

    I’m not sure if he’s two little voices, Robert and Bruce, perhaps Scottish twins, nor do I care. I will carry this little Robert Bruce around in my head because he tells me the painful truth in a way that makes me love myself more.

    Greatest writing trick I know: tell a revealing truth about yourself, and watch the rest of us queue up to say “me too.”

  47. This was right on target and true to the core. I cannot deny this part of who I am. I need to write as much as I need the most powerful things in my life and if I do not allow it to happen…everything in my life changes!

  48. Wow, this hit really close to home.

    That idea: Persevere. That is what it is all about

  49. Wow! Got this in my email just as I was about to start procrastinating because I “work better under pressure.” How many times have I said this to myself to avoid facing, years ago, a blank page and, more recently, a blank computer screen? I’ve never missed a deadline, so perhaps my mantra is true.

    Incidentally, I AM a writer. I inherited the “virus” from my mother and passed it along to my daughters. I’ve been writing since I was able to read and have made my living at it since graduation from college. And you are 100 percent correct when you tell writers to “persevere.” There is no time to wait for inspiration to strike – not when a deadline looms and a paycheck is on the line. No, the only thing for a writer to do is bash on, butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard, mind engaged in the process. Oh, I can think of a million things that might keep me from writing – the dog needs to go out, the laundry needs to be done, the toilet needs to be cleaned. (That’s how low I’ve sunk on occasion – all to avoid that blank screen.) After reading your post, I realize that perhaps the reason for my procrastination is because I don’t want to face the fact that maybe I’ve been a fraud all these years, calling myself a writer, when I’m really a commercial hack. One of my ex-bosses told me that “no one writes fluff as well as you do.” Yikes! My toilets were really clean for weeks after that as I sought anything to do to save me from producing more fluff for my readers.

    I am a writer – not the kind that sits in a garrett and writes pages of poignant prose that no one will ever see. No, I am a writer who’s made her living writing for magazines and now for the web. When magazines I worked for folded and there was no work to be found, I started a community newsletter. When print started to dry up and freelance work became scarce, I started a blog (http://www.EverBeautiful.com.) I cannot stop writing anymore than I can stop breathing. Never been able to do it. It’s the only thing I think I’m equipped to do. And, I don’t write in a vacuum. I need an audience to read my words. I crave an audience’s feedback as much as a stage actor craves applause. If writing is a virus, reader attention is the medicine. But, it’s a virus that never goes away. I wake up thinking about what I’m going to write. I go to sleep thinking about what I’m going to write. When I post on my blog, I agonize over what the readers’ response will be and check my traffic stats every few minutes. I am addicted to the process. I love it. I hate it. I can’t live without doing it. I am a writer.

  50. Good stuff…I’m glad I don’t have this challenge…I’ll stick to what I’m good at and not beat myself up over writing!

  51. It is such a love hate relationship! I want to do it so bad…yet WON’T do it until I have absolutely no choice other than to do it…because the deadline has arrived or indeed the deadline has come and gone and I have to come up with my usual lame excuses and pleas for ‘injury time’. Yet once I have written and sharpened a piece of writing to my best standard, there is nothing to compare with the rush of adrenaline and complete happiness I feel. And then I have to ask myself over and over again…”Why oh why do I make such a big deal of it every time?!” Because once I get started and ‘into’ writing I’m so happy and complete. But for some reason I choose to live in the guilt ridden world of the procrastinator.It’s a conundrum!

  52. My “write” hand has the need anddesire, however my “right” brain’s creative juices run dry on occassion….so persevere I must!

  53. Hi Robert, Apropos my previous comment…Sorry! I forgot to say thank you for airing a little bit of the strange angst- ridden world of the writer! I enjoyed this post very much! ;->

  54. Ah, and I thought it was just me. Simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing to do. How is that even possible? Thanks, Mr. Bruce, for putting it so eloquently, and encouraging us writers everywhere with your words (and with the word, such as it is).

  55. Thanks for the great post. I don’t doubt my writing, but I wonder if it’s too brutal for most people. And me being a laborer where I live is up to debate. Writing’s not a profession, if you ask my neighbors, though I know it is. I do feel guilty if I don’t write, which isn’t often. But it happens.

  56. Creative metaphor, writing as a virus. I write even if no one notices or no one pays me to do it. I want to keep working on the craft of writing. I think I have it.

    • If you want to do it, you probably have it. Working on the craft is a never-ending journey. I think you’ve got a healthy outlook. Good luck!

  57. Hi Robert!

    A very well-written piece of work you got here! Truly, a writer’s work. :)

    Yes, I might as well admit I have the “virus” as well and I share some of your pains, if you can call it that, yet perservere despite all the odds.

    Just like an artist that paints a picture through strokes and blobs of colors or someone who weaves yarn and turns it into a piece of beautiful handwork, we, writers, if i may also call myself that, derives an insurmountable pleasure in turning words into a beautiful piece of coherent message.

    The magic of writing can only be expressed through writing. And, so we write, and we write, and we write….

  58. I wouldn’t classify myself as a “writer”….yet! My frustration is that I come up with a great topic. And spend time on it, then look it over and think “this is horrible!” Any professional help in this area would be appreciated. Might be that I have the wrong idea of what makes a great topic!

    A very enjoyable post with wonderful comments!

    Jamie

  59. Fourth bullet: I often talk about writing more than I do it. At least, more than I write the fiction I want to write. Writing has a way of taking over my life in other forms, though.

    The worst thing this “virus” does is inspire me during the most inconvenient times and then leave me clueless when I can commit to writing. Solution? Scribble down ideas whenever you can. Revisit later.

    Thanks for the post!

  60. Nice.

    It takes balls to write to writers about writing. I mean, I’m intimidated by everything about your insane share and the awesome comments. I want to toss my comment and head-nod into the mix, but I don’t want to F it up. Bad comment writing phobia.

    And lastly, it’s the beautiful truth. Thanks.

    • Ken,

      Don’t be intimidated to share. That’s what writing is all about. You can’t F it up – unless, IMO, you use deplorable grammar and bad spelling. (Not the case with your initial comment, so share away.) I would love to hear what you have to say. Thanks. Melody

  61. I’d rather be hungover tomorrow than not write today.

  62. As I read this, my first thought was, “Yup, that’s me.”

    My second thought was, “Shut up, you narcissistic poseur. Thinking you’re a ‘real writer.’ Why don’t you get a real job and do something useful.”

    Is that a good sign?

    • Hahah! Love this…such vulnerability could only come from a writer smitten with the virus. (small voice) But then I’m a charlatan so how would I know…Doh!

  63. So true! I’ll admit it, I’m afflicted. Should we form a writers anonymous group?
    Hi, my name is Dave, I’m a writer…

  64. I have to admit that writing can transform from a nice hobby into a daunting task (job) in just a few weeks or even days. And yes, there are times when we begin to tell ourself then we no longer walk the talk but these are moments that (in my case) tell us go back in track and write from the heart again.

  65. I think writers, similar to most artists, grapple with a pretty heavy dose of neurosis (I certainly do). My biggest problem with the work I do, as writer and a designer, is never being satisfied. Being under the gun, however, of time constraints, deadlines and not being able to come up with something better at the moment – I often just have to go with it.

    But when I look back at what I had to “go with” (which usually pleased the clients), I cringe and ultimately feel defeated. The only way I’ve been able to continue is perseverance – I’m always certain I’ll do better next time. And so far, that’s always been true.

  66. Wowzers – this is frighteningly accurate! It makes me feel really quite good though because I’m obviously not the only one who can check of a lot of things on the list! Being a writer can be very lonely, can’t it, so it’s good to know other people are in the same boat.

    Nice post, cheers!

  67. Sweet liberation Robert. Thank you.

    “You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist … Call it an overstatement, but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.” Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

  68. Thanks so much for this post! I feel your pain…

    I just finished writing a 20,000+ word, 80 page, report for my business. I have been working on it for about a month now and am working on publishing it as an E-book. But I could not for the life of me understand what was wrong!

    My anticipation for finishing this project has been mounting the last couple of weeks; I have been so excited to actually see the final product. But as soon as I finished typing the final word on that document and tweaking my formatting to make it exactly how I wanted it… this terrible feeling overcame me… all I could do was look at the labors of the last month of my life and feel depressed! The only thoughts I had available in my mind were, “Is this what I’ve been spending all my time doing? Really??” While my husband was busy congratulating me on my accomplishment and telling me how proud he was of my 80 page masterpiece I just sat there… unsatisfied.

    So I thought… hmm… maybe I should write something else…

    At least now I know I’m not crazy… just diseased :)

    • Dalas, imagine that feeling after finishing a 60,000 word business book. And a 55,000 word mystery. Then a 65,000 word business book. And then . . . well, there’s a pattern there, and it’s not the numbers . . .

      Every time I finish writing something long, at some point I look at it and think, really? Is that all you’ve got? You’re a fraud. Or at least an idiot, but probably a fraud. This is especially painful when people are buying it from Amazon, and you know you’re participating in a scam of epic proportions.

      I’m trying to counteract it by, at that moment, calling or emailing a friend who I know loves what I do. My fans are incredibly loyal (both of them) and they give me the boost I need *not* to burn everything and go back to scrubbing toilets for a living.

      • Christ, I thought I had it bad editing a 30,000 ebook that I have today decided to re-format into 3 ebooks instead because I think they will sell better that way. in the morning of course I will change my mind and stick with the one book idea. Then read it all again, and decide Section One maybe needs a re-write, yes, another one, a 3rd one.

        Please God just let me get it finished will you? I have a dozen ideas running round in my head and on my notepad beside me for the book after the next book.

        Will one of you please tell me it gets easier after you’ve done the first one?

        All this and NO alcohol…Ernest my friend, I doff my cap to you…

        • Tell you *what* gets easier? (I’m not laughing at you, really I’m not Andrew. More like offering a closet floor [if I had one] where you could huddle in the fetal position ’til the mood passes. That’s what I used to do.)

          As a songwriter, I know that while no song is ever finished, at some point they have to be done. It’s easier with a 3-minute song, but it’s the same with a book, ‘e’ or dead tree.

          If you don’t have a trusted advisor to help you decide whether 3 ebooks makes more sense, whether book 1 really needs another rewrite, and whether closet floors should be bare wood or carpeted, go to my website and give me a shout with the contact form. I promise faithfully I’m not selling you something. I just wanna help. I can.

  69. Nice to know I am not alone in this.

    And very important to edit sober!!!!

  70. And here I WAS thinking it’s just me! Good to know I’m keeping such great company:)

    Thanks & it continues to call my name…the writing I mean…

    Clara.

  71. One of my worst symptoms is the pre-writing ritual that takes place every time I sit down to write something. It’s worse when it’s been a while since my last time: Clean entire house. Make myself a cup of tea. Switch on the computer. Switch it off. Pen and paper. Switch on computer for second time. Put some peaceful music on for inspiration. Turn it off. Stare at blank computer screen. Anything to avoid writing. Type “I can’t think of what I want to say. Why did I think I could do this?” … Second cup of tea. Sit in front of computer. Start writing. Sense of healing when done. Then I urge for more!!!

  72. I’ve always likened it to being possessed by a demon. Just when I think I am safe, I have to write again. It never leaves me alone, it always torments me.

    I also agree that my best work is the least appreciated stuff. Popcorn sells, substance lies fallow.

  73. I am my own worst critic and quite often feel like a fraud, and seem to be regularly ignored, but I can’t not write.

    “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.”
    – Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1902-1903

    or my take:

    “The time to begin writing is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.”

    I write for myself first. If I obtain readers, so be it.

  74. I’ve found that updating our company twitter account keeps my demons at bay in the short-term between writing larger posts. It’s not a perfect fix by any means, but it doesn’t hurt.

  75. Some writers may take themselves too seriously, causing the virus to grow for no reason.

  76. “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” ~ Thomas Mann

  77. Lynette McMillan :

    Every word you wrote is true about me. I have the virus big time! If I doubted before, at least I know for sure now. I am after all, a writer. I am now convinced. What was just a romantic dream, turns into a nightmare every so often. This virus takes hold of my whole being at times, turning me into someone I have never met.
    Thank you for giving me revelation.

  78. I love this post- I was literally laughing out loud! People who don’t write, or more importantly, don’t torturously crave it, don’t get it. I love when someone walks up to me and says, “I really need to write an (article, letter, script, story) on ______, can you help me write it really quick?” and then stares blankly at you like they have just asked you an easy multiplication question- expecting the words to just freely flow from mind to tongue to paper. What is 4 times 4?

    I have a sneaky suspicion this has to do with how writers are portrayed on TV and movies- there are always these fantastical stories about how a writer gets an idea or how they chase a story, but we never see the hardships of their writing on screen. It is night time- we see them open their computer, and without even glancing at their notes they heroically start pounding away on the keys- smiling and writing freely and effortlessly. The next morning, our writer is waking up from her long slumber with a call from her editor, publisher, dream-job, with the great news- the story is perfect! Everyone loves it! It is going to sell copies by the millions!

    I want to know their secret… ha ha.

  79. Thanks. A writer friend last night was reading me the characteristics of being in the flow, creatively speaking.
    1) Have a clear goal in mind (more or less, yes)
    2) Feel that you are up to the task and can accomplish it.
    Well that’s where I have trouble. I am never sure I’m up to the task but I don’t seem to be able to walk away from trying either.

  80. Cacoethes scribendi in Latin is translated as an insatiable urge to write.

    It is an infectious, yet benign disease. As Monk, the TV detective would say, “It’s a gift … and a curse”.
    Once you have been bitten by the writing “bug”, it is difficult not to write. We are fortunate to live in an online age, in which we can freely express ourselves. Blogging is an exceptional forum for self-expression.

    As we watched the recent events in the Middle East unfold, it is abundantly clear that personal and collective freedom is a basic right of all of the world’s people. It is worth defending at all cost.

  81. “You have the steady suspicion that you’re more fraud than writer”
    Well if that doesn’t sum up the sentiment. Reading each bullet point was like talking to myself aloud… an act which I think every writer is intimately acquainted with. And the last point “Despite all of this, you cannot stop writing” speaks to just how strong the call of writing is.

    Great article.

  82. Thank you.