The Difficulty of Writing by Mariana

Everybody at least once caught himself in front of the scary white wall of writing. It requires a certain push (some call it inspiration) and some magic. Even starting to write this post took me some 20 hours of waiting and thinking, ‘Do I really know what I want to write? Is it really necessary to write it now?’ and so on, you got the picture.

My idea is to illustrate and talk about the difficulty of writing with the following scene (see also the general picture below): A bicycle is positioned on a stand, and once someone sits on it and does some paddling (which would be made particularly hard by tightening the brakes), the dynamo with generate power for a front light. The light then points at a typewriter on a chair (or desk). The movement of the bike paddles would activate a metal arm, which would then start typing randomly on the typewriter. Simultaneously, a radio would start playing audio interviews and opinions of famous writers on the difficulty of writing, writer’s block, and writing in general; my idea is that the speed of the bike paddles would control the rate of the audio (the playback speed). So at the beginning, while the bike moves slow, something like “Wriiiiiitiiingggggg issssss liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikeeeeee…” would be heard.


I will first start by constructing the mechanical hand that will click on the typewriter, and will be “activated” by the bike peddles (expect a sketch soon!). In the meantime, here are some quotes from my favorite writers that I plan to include (and few links to more of those):

“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

~John Steinbeck

“It’s a bad business, this writing. No marks on paper can ever measure up to the word’s music in the mind, to the purity of the image before its ambush by language. Most of us awake paraphrasing words from the Book of Common Prayer, horrified by what we have done, what we have left undone, convinced that there is no health in us. We accomplish what we do, creating a series of stratagems to explode the horror. Mine involve notebooks and pens. I write by hand.” 

~Mary Gordon

“My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.

I can work anywhere. I wrote in bedrooms and living rooms when I was growing up with my parents and my brother in a small house in Los Angeles. I worked on my typewriter in the living room, with the radio and my mother and dad and brother all talking at the same time. Later on, when I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time.”

~Ray Bradbury

“Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.”

~John Steinbeck

“I had a ritual once of lighting a candle and writing by its light and blowing it out when I was done for the night … also kneeling and praying before starting (I got that from a French movie about George Frideric Handel) … but now I simply hate to write. My superstition? I’m beginning to suspect the full moon. Also I’m hung up on the number nine though I’m told a Piscean like myself should stick to number seven; but I try to do nine touchdowns a day, that is, I stand on my head in the bathroom, on a slipper, and touch the floor nine times with my toe tips, while balanced. This is incidentally more than yoga, it’s an athletic feat, I mean imagine calling me ‘unbalanced’ after that. Frankly I do feel that my mind is going. So another ‘ritual’ as you call it, is to pray to Jesus to preserve my sanity and my energy so I can help my family: that being my paralyzed mother, and my wife, and the ever-present kitties. Okay?”

~Jack Kerouac

“The joy of writing for a living is that you get to do it all the time. The misery is that you have to, whether you’re in the mood or not. I wouldn’t be the first writer to point out that doing something so deeply personal does become less jolly when you have to keep on at it, day after cash-generating day. To use a not ridiculous analogy: Sex = nice thing. Sex For Cash = probably less fun, perhaps morally uncomfy and psychologically unwise. Sitting alone in a room for hours while essentially talking in your head about people you made up earlier and then writing it down for no one you know does have many aspects which are not inherently fulfilling. Then again, making something out of nothing, overturning the laws of time and space, building something for strangers just because you think they might like it and hours of absence from self – that’s fantastic. And then it’s over, which is even better. I’m with RLStevenson – having written – that’s the good bit.”

~AL Kennedy

“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

~Haruki Murakami

Well, that should be enough for sharing here. A good interview with screenwriters is here “Screenwriters on writer’s block“. Another great source is the BrainPickings blog.

I am also thinking about how to make the playback speed/bike speed without using electronics. Would a gramophone work? Hmmm, any ideas are appreciated.

I would also try and find in a library recorded interviews with authors on the topic, otherwise maybe I would need someone to read the quotes.

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