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Writing Is Hell

Writing Is Hell

I’ve been watching Barry on HBO. Barry | Official Website for the HBO Series |

Bill Hader (@billfreakinghader) • Instagram photos and videos

It’s about a Marine who returns from Afghanistan, becomes a hitman, and then ends up in an acting class taught by Gene Cousineau, played by Henry Winkler. (18) Henry Winkler (@hwinkler4real) / Twitter

In season 1, episode seven, Barry is given a line from MacBeth to recite, “My Lord, the Queen is dead.” It’s his only line, and he can’t seem to get it right. That is, long story short, until he ends up killing a fellow Marine. Before the scene, his partner tells him to give her something to work with. In flashbacks he sees the dead marine, the call to his wife and son, the funeral. Barry delivers the line in tears and walks off the stage crying. His scene partner has what she needs and performs the rest of her monologue in a way she’s never done before. After the show, Gene tells Barry that he’s gone to a place he’s never seen him do. Another actor tells him that he just has to go to that same place each time he acts.

Writing is like that. We need to get to that same place each time we write. It’s about telling the truth. It’s that simple and that difficult. It’s getting to a place that is real. Some days it’s easy, though not so often. And some days it’s difficult – that’s the usual case. It takes practice, a willingness to go to the places you’d rather not go; it takes courage to write, courage to fail and, perhaps most importantly, courage to keep writing until you get it right.

Red Smith said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

William Styron put it more succinctly: “Let’s face it. Writing is hell.”

Sometimes, opening a vein can be hell. When I begin to write, I have a messy first draft – fits and starts, parts that don’t make any sense, parts that just wander off, stuff I can’t believe I wrote because it’s so awful, and then a few lines I can’t believe I wrote because they are actually good.

I love the editing process. It’s a puzzle to be worked out. Which word is the exact right word? Yeah, it can be hell trying to figure it out, but once that mess of a first draft is down on the page, I can then get to work on what I’m trying to say. To be honest, there are days I want to tear my hair out because I can’t get it right, can’t figure it out. But I keep putting it all down on the page until my writing makes itself known.

Yep, writing can be hell, but the gift I get from writing fills me up each time I open that vein.

A reminder that I’m teaching a VIRTUAL Memoir Writing Class through the Marlene Meyerson JCC in Manhattan. It runs for six weeks beginning on Monday, November 7 from 4:30pm – 5:30pm Eastern Time.

[VIRTUAL] A Memoir - Writing Workshop | Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan (

Hope to see you there if he can sign up!

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