Writers like to share their experiences in catchphrases, little truisms that are as precise as they are obscure. I mean, what are these guys really trying to say?
One of my favorites, partly because it was on the very first “writing t-shirt” my husband bought me, is a quote of Red Smith‘s. I know you’ve seen it before. You know the one “Writing is easy. All you need to do is sit a typewriter and open a vein“?
Well, writing can be painful. And I bet a lot of people see that quote and instantly assume that it’s saying we need to bleed ourselves dry for our craft. Or that only through pain and sacrifice can we give what we must to create great writing…
And sometimes that’s exactly what it means. Writing, like any art, requires us to give of ourselves to make it happen and bring it to the world. We have to work hard sometimes–not that hard work is a bad thing… sometimes the most satisfying thing we can do is feel the strain of our own effort.
So yes, we need to mine ourselves and souls for our craft. Sometimes we just need to scratch the surface, sift the stream of consciousness with a shallow pan, screen the loose soil and detritus away to reveal the rare and precious nuggets. Sometimes we can get lucky and find a lode of gems right near the surface. The stories come easily, the words flow on the page with almost no effort save making certain to get in the chair and “do it”.
Sometimes we want to go deeper though. We have to go deeper, we have to meet the reader at that point where we are all human underneath the guises we wear daily. We go deep into ourselves, cutting to the bones and the words and ideas and emotions… the very essence of ourselves and our humanity becomes the writing. We bleed out and into others through our words.
And that’s why I think Red Smith chose the word ‘vein‘. Not just for the image of a writer bleeding his or her lifeblood onto the page….
A vein–not an artery. I mean, arteries have a lot going for them. They’re filled with fresh fuel-filled blood–new ideas, new energy… While veins are filled with breathless liquid that our bodies have used for all its worth.
Well, in a sense, the blood in the arteries hasn’t become ours yet. And it if it’s not ours, we’re not giving anything to the reader they can’t get on their own from somewhere else. In the veins though… we’re there. We’ve used that blood, we’ve breathed it, we’ve lived with it, and now we’re sending it along. That venous blood is filled with our experiences, our humanity… our detritus, our strength, our character.
So yeah, sit at that keyboard and open a vein. It may be painful, it may not, but it’ll be you, precious, live-giving and unique.