• An Exercise on “Having Written”

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 23 comments

    torture-chair-122858_960_720I’m not what you’d call a strong believer in the whole “tortured artist” affectation, the writers who claim — actually, boast — that every word brings searing, gut-wrenching pain and to find inspiration the writer must rip or tear open his or her heart and soul and disgorge his or her blood and innards on the page. It’s all a little a lot too precious for my taste. And violent!

    I do believe that writing is difficult for many of us. It’s just like any other activity: for some it’s a pleasure, for others it’s a pain, but for most, it’s just something we do.

    Is it something that some of us must do? That’s another common idea: “I don’t want to write; I have to write.” I don’t fully believe that either (sorry), but if relying on such a device helps a writer create, then hey, more power.

    Your turn: Writing = torture, a pleasure, something in between, or all of the above at various times depending on the day, the session, and/or the project? Let us know in the comments below. And tick “notify” to keep track of the conversation.


    Having Written

    Yesterday I was talking about this with a friend, and he said something that rang more true to me than anything else I’ve heard on this subject. “I don’t really like to write,” he said, “but I like having written.”

    On days when he has written, my friend said, he goes to bed feeling satisfied and accomplished, and he falls asleep more quickly and sleeps more peacefully.

    On days he hasn’t written, he feels like his day was a total loss. He tosses and turns deep into the night and berates himself for every single unproductive thing he did instead of writing.

    Your turn: When you climb into bed, do you reflect on the writing you did or didn’t do that day? Do you sleep better on days when you have written?


    Writing Leads to “Having Written”

    The benefit of this pattern, and his awareness of it, is that he’s learned to use it as a motivating factor. When he finds himself resistant to writing, he pauses to think about that moment, hours into the future, when he’ll crawl into bed and reflect on his day. And he’ll ask himself, is giving in to this resistance — playing hooky from writing — worth the bedtime dissatisfaction and subsequent tossing and turning?

    Sometimes it is worth it, and so he won’t write. But most days, “I like having written” provides enough inspiration to break through the barrier.

    For most of us, the more times we manage to break through the barrier(s) we set up for ourselves, the easier it becomes to continue to do so. Slowly, sure. Even imperceptibly. But often, writing leads to more writing, and more writing leads to more writing.

    And all writing, at day’s end, leads to “having written,” which for many of us means a better night’s sleep.



    This week, be aware of, and keep track of in a nightstand notebook, your feelings toward writing as you climb into bed. If you’ve written today, do you feel good about it? And if you haven’t, do you feel dissatisfied and unproductive? Grade yourself as a writer today on a 1-10 scale.

    When you wake up, grade your sleep on a 1-10 scale. Take note of how you feel toward writing and toward yourself as a writer this morning.

    At week’s end, examine your notebook. What have you learned about yourself? Can you create a writing strategy based on these numbers and feelings? If not, try again next week.

    Feel free to share your results and resultant strategies with us, either here or via email.



    David LinkedFULLWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


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    Tom Whittier

    Thanks for this. Something worth trying. For me, writing can be torture and it can be pleasure, and sometimes both at the same time. It is almost NEVER anything in between. Is that strange? And for the other one— I don’t know if I sleep better on days I wrote. Maybe I’ll figure that out with this assignment. But most nights I DO think about whether or not I wrote, and I do know I’m happier with myself on days I wrote. Though I don’t really think I toss and turn all night and torture myself if I didn’t. I’m… Read more »

    Lynda Curnyn

    Hi there. Thanks for the post and suggestion. The quote on writing is one of my favorites but I think the attribution goes to Dorothy Parker, who said “I hate writing but love having written.” Such a good quote that we should give credit where it’s due :)

    Lynda Curnyn

    oops–just doublechecked myself. There is no “but” in Ms. Parker’s quote! Sorry not to be more precise the first time

    Lynda Curnyn

    Very interesting research…. Hmmm. Well, I guess the truth is that it rings true for many writers. Feels very D.P. to me so that’s that story I’m gonna stick to…

    Jerry Schwartz

    I note that Dorothy Parker (or whoever) said “I hate writing,” not “I experience searing pain when writing.”


    Hi there. I’m definitely trying this exercise. At night
    I usually do reflect on my day as a writer, but I don’t
    think I ever considered a connection between that
    and the quality of my sleep. And as has been proven,
    and is kind of obvious anyway, better sleep leads to
    a better mind the next day. Snowball effect, maybe?
    Let us hope so!



    Writing = painful pleasure and pleasurable pain. Both at once, always.


    I blame school and TV for this. I remember hardly being able to wait until it was time to write a story. Along came grades for creativity, destructive criticism, busy work, research papers, and subjects not always taught in the best way kids learn. (BTW, I liked school, really.) I think one reason a lot of people associate writing with torture is because they were tortured with writing! As far as TV goes, at no other time in history has man been able to sit on his fat, lazy keister for so long doing so little. I could sit in… Read more »


    I agree with the tl;dr notation. My computer runneth over, but it just wants to have fun. My apologies for the run-on.


    Tortured artist? No. Tortured soul? Yes. An artist? Yes. A soul? Yes. (You figure it out.) I find that stories are with me for a long time before a write them down. I pay attention to the time I spend thinking about a story; it is never wasted time. And when I’m in bed, wanting to sleep, but complete sentences are reeling in my head, I get up and write.In the calculus of sleep deprivation, life lived, and writing produced–it all works out the way it’s supposed to. Shit, I just ended a sentence with “to.” Is there an editor… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    Warning: the following is a diatribe. Consider me beat generation 1.5. I was maturing when Alan Ginsberg was performing on tour (for money), and Kerouac had almost finished drinking himself to death. I was studying physics, and aside from seeing Ginsberg recite “Howl” I wasn’t paying much attention. I went to a liberal arts school, though, and there were poets and artists aplenty. It seemed to me that many were infatuated with the idea of suffering—not doing it, since they were living comfortable lives at an exclusive private college—but feeling that they should be suffering if they ever hoped to… Read more »


    I agree that we’re talking spiritual torture rather than the physical kind. I touched on making a comfy space and trying superficial get-to-the-desk exercises merely to motivate ON A GOOD DAY. Many people have really bad days when getting out of bed seems or is like real physical torture. My suggestions were merely Bandaids, and I know that. Sometimes you need a Bandaid. Sometimes you need a tourniquet. There is a fear of failure, that after all that work, no one is going to read it anyway. There is the level of difficulty in getting something published — if I… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    I have a big advantage: I’m not trying to become a published writer. That’s not to say I wouldn’t like being published; but I’d be happy enough if some other people read my stuff. If they paid me a dime for the privilege, that would be icing on the cake. If they paid me a dime after reading it, that would be even better.

    I’ll admit that all dressed up and no place to go feeling does take the sweetness out of writing, but it mostly hits when I’ve finished a piece.


    I will admit needing to write to keep the lights on puts a whole nother level on it.

    You just said you would like it if people read your stuff and, just maybe, liked it enough to pay for it. Your lips to God’s ears. We’re twins. If this is what you would like, why aren’t you trying to publish?

    Jerry Schwartz

    There are a several reasons why I haven’t tried to publish: – I had a friend who does book cover art, and he was supposed to design a cover for one of my stories. He never got around to it. – In the meantime, I’ve been learning quite a bit. I’ve been going over and over my stuff, no doubt much more than is healthy for me or it. – I haven’t had an editor in the last year. I’ve been going to a couple of writers groups, but that’s as frustrating as it is useful. I’m reluctant to involve… Read more »


    That’s what I’m saying, Jerry. Writing and all that’s associated with it can be painfully lonely when there’s no one in your corner. I’m right there with you, pal. The Duhrs get it. If they knew how comforting they have been here while we sound off…I want to create stuff they can help me with someday. That’s what it’s all about. Good luck, and dig deep.

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