“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Hemingway

My third semester at Berklee College of Music, I was in a Harmony/Composition class taught by a talented and accomplished composer whose name I can’t remember. He was blunt without cruelty. We always knew exactly what he thought of our pieces.

There was a Halloween faculty composition show in the Berklee Performance Center that year. One of the featured pieces was  written by this professor. It was wonderful. The day after the show, students were congratulating him and asking about the piece.

“When did you write that? Do you have more music? I want to hear more.”

He was polite but avoidant. He said that he had written that piece a long time ago. He didn’t have much that he had written recently. The questions became more insistent.

He cracked and said, “I haven’t written anything in a long time because it’s too painful. Okay. It’s just too painful.”

Silence. It was clear that it was more than he wanted to share. One anonymous student said with a hint of disdain, “But you’re a composition teacher.”

“Don’t I know it. Look I don’t have an explanation, but I do know that’s the reason I don’t write now. It’s just too painful.”

Being 20, I remember thinking that it was the process that he was talking about. The focus of sitting down and writing a piece of music was painful to me at the time. At 48 (probably the age of this professor at that time), the focus is the easy part. The hard part is diving through my baggage and the fear to write something. In short, I often find it too painful to write.

I also believe this to be a good reason to write. Nothing worth doing can be done without anxiety. In my case, it’s terror. A lot has happened in these 48 years, but some of my bigger disappointments are recent. Of course, all of our bigger disappointments are recent. We become accustomed to the burden of previous disappointments. They don’t go away.

I am avoiding writing because it is too painful. For me, it is also too painful not to write. Since I am going to experience this suffering one way or another, I might as well have written something. So I write.

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2 responses to “writing”

  1. “Nothing worth doing can be done without anxiety. In my case, it’s terror.”

    Therefore, in your case, nothing worth doing can be done without terror.

    Maybe part of being an artist is being able to articulate a sentiment like “nothing worth doing can be done without terror” – something a non-artist would seriously question – and accept it without question.

    • I have read this comment many time. It’s the ‘accepting the terror without question’ part that has been holding me back recently. I wonder: Is there a better life?

      I don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be for me. It doesn’t seem like a choice. Perhaps there is a choice, but I can’t see it. One way or another I will feel this terror. I can wait for circumstances to change to accomodate. It seems like a lifetime has passed – waiting in terror. So I’m going to pass another lifetime – writing, creating. Performing the act. Is being an artist a choice? I don’t know, but I will say it as you’ve reconstructed it. Nothing worth doing can be done without terror.

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