The Hardest Thing About Writing

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“An old pocket watch on a vintage typewriter” by Cliff Johnson on Unsplash

The hardest thing about writing is the amount of time you spend living someone else’s life.

You’re writing about ‘them’ or ‘it,’ and the entire time you’re doing the writing, or trying to do the writing, the subject takes control of your mental space. Like, it becomes very difficult to think about anything else. You become possessed by the story, to the point where you no longer exist anymore.

The only thing left is the story and the characters and what you are trying to say. And until you can say it, until the story is out there in the world, you have trouble letting it go. It wakes with you in the morning, goes to sleep with you at night.

This wreaks havoc on your personal life. You try to be social, you really do. In conversation, you nod and you ask questions, you listen and hear, interject when the time is right — but you are there and really not there. You are physically in the space, but your mind and your heart and your emotions are still with the story. You can’t leave it until it is right.

And even when the story is over, after it is out in the world, if it is a good story, one you care deeply about, the story remains. You think about what you could have done, ways the story might have been different. If I’d have only written this. It’d have been better if I did that. Imagine had I done this!

It’s a sickness, this thing, this storytelling addiction. You can’t tell if you’re insane or if you just need to be left alone, away from society, until you can get done with the thing you are trying to do. And once it is done, you wonder if you need to be quarantined, maybe take a week — heck, a month! — of bed rest, until you can truly let it go.

Because it is not putting the words on the page that are difficult. Anyone can do that. And everyone does. No, it’s the story itself. This thing that is moving and breathing and living inside you, shaping and bending, contorting this way and that, changing each second, with each breath that you take, like the mind and body and soul itself.

This is the hardest thing about writing.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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