when writing feels like endless, unmitigated joy vs. the drudgery of groundhog day

Writing is like raising children.*  You spend endless time on it, cultivating and fussing over the details.

Sometimes writing is a joy, and you can’t believe you have the privilege of doing this for a living.  In this state, you can repeat tasks like rewriting sections over and over, all because you believe in it and think you have something to share with the world.  At this point, writing feels a lot like this:

When a deadline hits and/or you feel you’re done enough work to share with others, you may feel a bit anxious about releasing the kids into the wild, but you reassure yourself that they can hold up on their own.  But, at some point, submitted manuscripts return home like boomer-rang adult children with several “needs more work” recommendations safety-pinned to their shirts.

In some cases, you bite your lip, as you supported or even encouraged this child’s majoring in pomo-such-and-such studies.  However, sometimes agents of the cruel world (i.e., reviewers and editors) disagree about whether it needs another one of these and what can be done to improve chances for independent living.  You are grateful for the feedback, but it’s not always clear how you can implement changes, especially when recommendations conflict.  In the meantime, the child is lying aimlessly on your couch with earbuds in, leaving dirty dishes and empty candy wrappers everywhere, and muttering monosyllabic responses to your increasingly alarmed inquiries about future steps towards independence.

During these times, the rewriting process feels more like this:

More comparisons after the jump…

Multiple rounds of revisions arouse visions of repeated drudgery, much like the cult classic Groundhog Day‘s depiction of reporter Phil Connor’s complicated symbiotic relationship with Punxsutawney Phil:

When reaching this point, writers entertain graphic fantasies:

The day that a manuscript finally enters the world for good is a good day.

* Based on what I have read about raising children (see “which sandwich should I eat first?” answer by Dan Ariely).

Written by katherinechen

August 15, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Posted in academia

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3 Responses

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  1. If you think it is hard now, wait until you publish. Marketing and spreading the word is the toughest job. I miss the old days where all I needed to do is just write.
    My advice is to start planning the methods you will use to spread the word after you finish the manuscript… Not before that.

    Best of luck.

    ~ A. H. Amin



    August 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm

  2. The cat attacking the balloon cat is, in fact, grad school in a nutshell.



    August 18, 2013 at 7:21 am

  3. When you popularize in Slate or make presidential addresses at Harvard, you have to watch out for this one:


    Graham Peterson

    August 19, 2013 at 3:19 am

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