Music is Heaven, Writing is Hell?

I love reading biographies of rock musicians.  Even if the band eventually deteriorates in a maelstrom of massive egos and substance abuse, there seems to be a real pleasure being a musician.  

Writers?  Not so much.  At a writers conference recently, one author spoke of “smashing my head off the keyboard” as she wrote.  This seems be a common refrain.  Many writers compare writing a book to exercising: they hate the process but love the result (crisp prose, a lean body).  So they tolerate the agony.  But some writers do find writing to be a cathartic, even a joyful exercise, at least in part.  Some of us write  first drafts on paper—stray sheets, napkins, hotel room letterhead.  This is a chance to just let everything erupt in a mishmash of misspelled words, strange imagery and incomprehensible sentences.  And buried deep, a few lines that are really good.  You begin the editing, cutting and drilling out the rock to get those gems.  But getting that freewheeling first draft done—whether a book, article, poem or novel—is a key step for me.  Yes, the revisions will alter the draft in tremendous ways, but that first draft is the skeleton of everything that comes later.  The writing may deal with tremendously painful subjects, but the process can give you a positive jolt.

There is a timeworn notion that beautiful art can only come from a painful process.  I sometimes wonder if this sense of writing and suffering may be related to writers block.  I once worked for a landscaper on Cape Cod, an old Irishman with some fine skill in stonework.  I never heard him claim that he had landscaper's block, and that we should all knock off for the day.  Well sure, landscaping is just rote stuff, right?  Not comparable to the lofty craft of writing?  Perhaps, but you should have seen the look of pleasure on his lined Irish face as he wove stone paths through the dirt.

So compared to the other creative arts, is writing so rare and special that we can only compare it to the pain of giving birth to molten bowling balls?  Being able to express yourself in written form is great gift.  The actor Christopher Walken said once in an interview that his dance training had given him a grounding in the value of hard work.  He had a credo of “Shut up and Dance”--stop talking and just do it.  So when it seems like the writing road is beset with shadows, let's keep in mind the old landscaper and the young dancer, Mr. Walken.  Get back to your writing.  Write to your own schedule, but don't be afraid to let the good and bad pour out on the page.  There is gold in those pages.  And maybe, if you think about it, some joy too.

John Nardizzi
John Nardizzi is a private investigator and crime writer.  His fictional detective, Ray Infantino, first appeared in print in Austin Layman's Crimestalkers Casebook in 2007.  Telegraph Hill is the first novel featuring Infantino.  Many details from the book are loosely based on legal cases he handled in San Francisco's tough Tenderloin District, as well has other criminal defense cases he handles around the country.


  1. Some great observations here. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on writing as a creative art with us.

  2. Hi Lance, glad you stopped by!

  3. Well, as a musician and aspiring writer... let me just say you can get 'music block' the same way you get writers block. Assuming you're the one composing, writing, creating the music. You hate the process and love the end result as well. I think all art involving creation is that way, since I've spoken with visual artists who feel the same.


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