Thursday, October 6, 2011

Self-Flagellant, or Happy Camper?

Bad Boys
Self Flagellant, or Happy Camper?
I’m one of those annoying happy-camper types who writes because I actually like to write. It stokes my fire, yanks my crank, makes me smile. Sure, parts of the editing process are a real pain, but the pain for me is entirely figurative. Still, I’m intrigued by those who – in order to write – have to open up a vein and bleed all over the keyboard, and then after doing so, they go back and do it again.
Erica Jong wrote, “Writers are doubters, compulsives, self-flagellants. The torture only stops for brief moments.” (1974) Her writing reality was not my writing reality, but it causes me to wonder about that simple five-letter word, write.
Etymologically speaking, there isn’t much support for the pain and suffering Ms. Jong and her ilk experience, though at first glance it appears there might be. Both writanan, write’s proto-Germanic grandmother and writtan, it’s Old Saxon grandmother, originally meant “to tear or scratch.” In fact, most the Indo-European languages’ precursors to write referred to carving, scratching, cutting, or vigorously rubbing.
These violent-sounding word histories simply reflect on a world without keyboards, legal pads, fountain pens, ballpoints and yellow pencils – a world which required writers to scratch their brilliance into bark or chisel it into stone before it could make its mark on the waiting reader.
George Sand, a self-confessed bleed-all-over-the parchment writer, offers this. “The profession of writing is nothing else but a violent, indestructible passion. When it has once entered people’s heads it never leaves them.”  (1831)
I’m all for the idea that once the passion enters, it never leaves, but the pain and agony simply aren’t a part of the game for me.
So, my meager yet stalwart followers, is writing more akin to cutting, scratching and carving, or is it simply a joy?
Thanks to these sources: the OED, The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women (1996), &


  1. Some days writing is like a bad case of hives that has arrived-- and the pleasure and relief of indulging at the scratching is nearly unholy.

    I actually have found writing to be a lot like the discipline of running- the longer you stay away from it, the more difficult it is the find pleasure once you lace up again. Getting back in it is tough. You lose aerobic capacity for each day you are away. You lose muscle. The greatest pleasures and highs for me in writing and running require time on the page and time on the pavement. It is then that I find those endorphinastic moments.

    Great question, Charlie-- looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

    Mary Hershey

  2. I love finding out we're "scratchers." For me writing scratches an itch in a satisfying way. No bleeding though. The business side of writing can be heartbreaking, but the actual writing--I love it!

    I like Mary's analogy above. (Not that I've ever been a runner) but I do walk every day without fail unless I'm sick. I love walking. But when I have to get back into it after an illness, it's sooooo hard to get going. I think it's the same with writing. Getting into the groove is what's hard. Once you're there, it's just what you want to do.

  3. Hey Anne & Mary,
    Scratching an itch - that works for me - as does the running analogy. And Mary's suggestion that writing is an indulgence really rings true for me. Thanks so much for chiming in.
    All the best,

  4. It depends on what I'm writing. If it's a difficult personal story, I feel my heart break all over again. If I'm writing fiction, not so much. My humor stories give me complete and utter joy! I, too, love the whole process of writing, even editing.