The Joy of Writing

by Ed Davis on March 8, 2016

The literary life has given me some very real moments of joy—and plenty of the opposite, too—but isn’t it perhaps the presence of both joy and despair in any “life,” literary or otherwise, that makes the experience so satisfying? Has it been the richest of my various lives? No. I prefer my life of important relationships, especially with my spouse, and even my spiritual life to writing. So how can third place be so full of joy? Maybe because it’s third place.

As the necessity of publication eventually became more a byproduct than the point of writing, the joy increased. It’s the writing itself:  staying buried inside a manuscript over long months, wrestling the angel (or devil), doing research, writing endless character and plot explorations, composing painstaking outlines, making discoveries and experiencing epiphanies—none of which can be foreseen, occurring daily while the rest of the world toils at their nine to fives (so nice to be retired).

But this joy:  what makes it so powerful? As so often when I’m faced with questions needing some clarity, I default to that great generator, the list. So here goes. Writing is joyful to me today:

  1. Because it’s done in solitude. For others, this much aloneness would be their definition of hell; I find I’m made for it, savor it, learn from it.
  1. Because of my relationship with the creative process: unconscious, spontaneous immersion in “flow” or whatever you want to call it, that process which, if not mystical, does concentrate the power of the mind, body and spirit on the work to the exclusion of everything else.
  1. Because it’s the hardest thing I do. The longer I write fiction and poetry, in fact, the easier craft becomes while the art grows harder (and deeper). The stakes are constantly raised and more is expected—by critics, agents, editors, reviewers and readers—but mostly by myself. What a challenge to attempt something so difficult; how humbling to slowly improve.
  1. Because occasionally it’s a real gift to someone else. Maybe my work has been of benefit to more than just the few who’ve told me it has, but those who have told me have given me not only the satisfaction of having succeeded at something like what I intended but a greater sense of self-worth. Yes, I know that worthiness ultimately comes only from within myself; still it’s extremely motivating when you know you’ve connected with fellow humans.
  1. Because it’s nice to be asked to join such as esteemed group on any level. And to even feel you’re contributing a bit to the tradition; that, at least you stand inside the ballpark with writers you admire and who’ve encouraged you by their shining examples. I’m so grateful to the editors, agent, publishers and fellow writers who’ve accepted me into their tribe. It’s a great pleasure and responsibility.
  1. Because performing is hellish fun. Now I’m talking about being an author. Giving readings is every bit as much a performance as when I played in a rock band. Neglected even as we non-best-sellers mostly are, when folks do attend our events, they expect us to be entertaining, and they’re very appreciative when we aren’t boring as hell. I accept the challenge, daunting as it is. All writers should, I think, if they ask the public for its attention.
  1. Because I like passing it on. Being a good literary citizen has become very important to me. I’ve discovered how gratifying it is to mentor, conduct workshops and give away what was so freely given to me. By “freely,” I mean, whether paid or not, when a writer goes beyond the boundary (sometimes well beyond) to agree to read a manuscript, blurb another’s upcoming book, recommend him/her to their agent or editor, even just to have coffee, especially when writing is how they earn a living.
  1. Because it’s my vocation—not my job. It’s a calling not everyone hears, that takes time, care, outside and inside help to verify (but it is, ultimately, verifiable; so many writers have said so, and I agree).
  1. Because it’s essentially mine. There is no one clamoring for more of my work—not the reading public, my spouse or my beta reader-critics, who, let’s face it, will be burdened by it, once I send another draft to their already-full inboxes to critique. I am my primary audience, so I’d better be having fun. While nothing gets written without tons of discipline, every day it’s my choice to heed the call or not. Most days I choose to, but not every day. Given the choice to spend the morning with a good friend versus the writing desk, I often choose the former, though many writers would disagree. Let them; they’re on best-seller lists; they’re making a living at it.
  1. And finally because it’s spiritual. The “real” writing, I discovered twenty years ago, was not writing fiction or poetry but the kind of writing taught within the pages of Writing Down the Bones and The Artist’s Way, by Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron, respectively. These books taught me that perhaps the best conversations I have are with myself and that journaling is an extremely powerful tool in facing and even healing demons preventing me from being not only the best writer but the best person I can be. With Goldberg, it’s keeping your hand moving across the page after giving yourself a prompt like “I remember . . .” With Cameron, it’s Morning Pages: the daily practice of writing at least 3 pages, dumping whatever’s in your head. Coming at a time in my life when I was putting myself under enormous pressure in my teaching and writing, Natalie and Julia gently said, “No goals; just write. Peace and liberation lie this way.” And so they did. (And do.)

P.S.—The Oakwood Library’s Author Fair last Saturday, March 5, was a great success, I thought: well-organized with plenty of quality browsers, plus there was a really positive vibe inside historic Wright Memorial Library for the two hours I was there. I hope that librarian Elizabeth Schmidt and her team repeat it next year!

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