Writing is Hell

A few weeks back, I decided to force myself into production mode for my book Tales of Empire, the manuscript of which is due in October. My semester being as busy as it is with teaching, other writing and editing jobs, public lectures, and another book to get done before August, my strategy was similar to the way I got my dissertation done: a daily minimum production of 500 words or more. Only this time, I decide to be a bit harder on myself, and make it a seven-days-a-week commitment, with no exceptions. I kept this up for fifteen consecutive days, resulting in nearly 10,000 words of rough but probably usable material now ‘in the bag,’ so to speak. Using the hashtag #500wordsormore, I even made it something of a public event, finding support from some others who face the same productivity dilemmas every day.

Having reached the point where I felt I’d made a lot of progress but had also exhausted the ideas I had ready for now, I took the past week off to focus on reading, grading, and thinking some more about structure, tone, and direction. But as of tomorrow, I’m back on the wagon, churning out words on the page that will in any case lead me somewhere. My motto for this gonzo approach used to be Truman Capote’s famous quip about Kerouac: “It isn’t writing at all; it’s typing.” But the other day I came across this quotation by poet Robert Hass, which sums it up even better:


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