Self-flagellant or happy camper?
I write because I like to write. It stokes my fire, yanks my crank, makes me smile. Sure, parts of the editing process are a real pain, but the pain for me is entirely figurative. Still, I’m intrigued by those who – in order to write – have to open up a vein and bleed all over the keyboard, and then after doing so, they go back and do it again.
Erica Jong wrote, “Writers are doubters, compulsives, self-flagellants. The torture only stops for brief moments.” (1974) Her writing reality was not my writing reality, but it causes me to wonder about that simple five-letter word, write.
Etymologically speaking, there isn’t much support for the pain and suffering Ms. Jong and her ilk experience, though at first glance it appears there might be. Both writanan, write’s proto-Germanic grandmother and writtan, it’s Old Saxon grandmother, originally meant “to tear or scratch.” In fact, most the Indo-European languages’ precursors to write referred to carving, scratching, cutting, or vigorously rubbing.
These violent-sounding word histories simply reflect on a world without keyboards, legal pads, fountain pens, ballpoints and yellow pencils – a world which required writers to scratch their brilliance into bark or chisel it into stone before it could make its mark on the waiting reader.
George Sand, a self-confessed bleed-all-over-the parchment writer, offers this, “The profession of writing is nothing else but a violent, indestructible passion. When it has once entered people’s heads it never leaves them.” (1831)
I’m all for the idea that once the passion enters, it never leaves, but the pain and agony simply aren’t a part of the game for me.
What do you think? Is writing more akin to cutting, scratching and carving, or is it simply a joy?
Thanks to these sources: the OED, The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, wordreference.com, & etymonline.com.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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