Writer’s cramp? How about writer’s cramps?

The cliché is writer’s cramp. I’ve never experienced it, although that’s probably because I mostly type. But I’ve never had anything computer-related, such as carpal tunnel, either. That doesn’t mean writing is free of work-related distress, however.

When things are going the way I want (aka, all of last week), I get writer’s cramps. That’s because I tense up my body in all sorts of imaginative ways. I don’t even realize I’m doing it. Until I try to move and a group of my muscles turns rigid and hard as a lead pipe and I can see bulges through my skin.

This happens most in my legs, because that’s what I tense the most, although shoulders and abdominal muscles also cramp sometimes. The other night I got up at around 2 am after writing for hours, and my right buttock decided to squeeze itself into a shape about the size of a baseball, and about as hard. It lasted about fifteen minutes, during which time my muscles played sadistic games on me, pretending to unclinch only to reseize the moment I tried to move. It hurt the rest of the night and the next day too.

I really get stressed when something, no matter how small, goes wrong, and for a very good reason: because at no point in writing a story am I ever convinced it’s working. It takes just one bad day to make me wonder if I shouldn’t scuttle the whole thing, pull my head out of my arse, and face that fact that I suck. Maybe my premise is stupid. Maybe I’m just not bright enough, not clever enough, not accomplished enough, to make it work. Sometimes I can get sweaty just thinking too much about this, especially when I’m doing the fifth or sixth revision of a section and it just won’t work.

Writing isn’t coal mining, but at least with coal mining you know when you’re successful: you’re holding coal. When you’re a writer you never have any idea. And if you don’t find coal, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure or stupid. Perhaps your data was just wrong. Writing is one of the relatively professions where if you fail you blame your own lack of cleverness. Excepting celebrities and the well-connected, of which admittedly there’s more than a few, writing is something where barriers to entry are pretty equal. Maybe the reason you missed coal wasn’t your fault. The reason you screwed up the second act definitely is.

Fitzgerald wondered if Gatsby was any good. Virginia Woolf was doubtful what the public’s reaction would be to Mrs. Dalloway. And poor Count Tolstoy never had a high opinion of himself, period. And he spent much of his days doing brutally hard work with the peasants in the fields.  He might have made a good coal miner.

So anyway, hope y’all had a good holiday. Mine was great: I didn’t get any cramps. Today I’m back at my desk and so far I’m flying. Maybe I needed Christmas to take a day off and relax those muscles.

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One response

  1. “Writing isn’t coal mining, but at least with coal mining you know when you’re successful: you’re holding coal. When you’re a writer you never have any idea.” –Love this!!

    December 27, 2010 at 7:47 am

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