Writing is Damned Hard Work

A real pisser. Although, as we go through the process, or the “journey,” take your pick — we come to understand that it’s difficult on a number of levels.

There is the constant head-bang of “What shall I write about today?” The ripping through grey matter to come up with something — anything — that will connect with our readers. The days when we think we’ve “said it all,” are some of the hardest of all. Along with that is the ever-increasing challenge of “volume.” Are we, for fuck’s sake, writing enough? How much is enough, anyway? One story a day? Two? Three?

One gem, or three pieces of crap. Now that’s a conundrum.

And now, with the shift in Medium’s algorithm, we’re confronted with more questions, more doubts and naturally, more “how-to” stories than ever. How can we possibly wade through all this stuff? Someone, write that story.

Here’s what I’ve discovered. The “secret,” if you will. Vulnerability rocks. Don’t shy away from being yourself. You already know this. We all do.

Being vulnerable, “telling our truths,” is the hardest part about writing. I grapple with this beast daily. How blunt should I be? How honest? Who will I hurt? And on and on.

Journalists, the ones we should be reading, anyway, are committed to truth-telling. They don’t fret and stew over who will be offended, or angered or knocked flat by their words. Because there are no versions of the truth. It just is.

Shouldn’t the rest of us writers be held to the same standards? No bullshit? No prettying up some of the uglier realities of day to day living? Financial issues. Illness. Relationships that self-destruct. Addiction. Age/sexual/racial discrimination.

Airing our shit is what makes us engaging.

I’m not suggesting that we focus on doom and gloom. What I am trying to put across: We all have something we’re dealing with. We needn’t be afraid or reluctant to write about it. Showing our humanity is what will get us read. Being human will elicit the attention we writers thrive on. There’s no getting around that. Again — it just is.

Demons. They’ve been with me my whole life. They perch on my shoulder and scrabble around my brain like ants on rotting fruit.

I’ve written about these demons with few reservations as, for good, or bad, they’re part of who I am. An individual with flaws and warts, who unfailingly tries to do the right thing, but doesn’t always succeed. However, I have a kind heart and I hope that comes through in my stories.

Airing my shit.

When I wrote about my lifelong struggle with OCD, people engaged and were incredibly kind in the process. Not to lie: I was embarrassed at first, but any uneasiness I felt was replaced by a sense of relief. I wondered if I should write the story as anyone who suffers with this disorder can tell you, there’s nothing “quirky” or laughable about it. It sucks. It’s scary. And exhausting. But, people got it. And they got me. It was incredibly freeing and cathartic to write about something that’s troubled me my whole life.

I wrote a poem that depicted my dead father in a terribly unflattering light, but it was something I needed to get out of my system. A bad memory I had to purge. I hope he would understand.

I’ve written about — or rather, implied — that I like alcohol more than I should. Another wart. One I certainly share with so many others.

Like any couple, my husband and I have issues. I’ve aired these publicly. Thankfully, he doesn’t read my stories unless I bring one to his attention. That said, he gets me. He knows I’ll tell the truth,

I opened a vein to write my latest screenplay about my parents and I having cancer at the same time. Stage 4 for them and breast cancer for me. I really let loose with this script. I wrote things that I never thought I would tell another soul. And, I am so proud of it. It works because I bled. I held nothing back.

How about you? What are you holding back?

Masks are a bitch. They cut off our breathing and keep us from allowing people to see who we really are. As writers, we need to drop them. Show ourselves with pride and without fear. Do we have to hurt people? No. I believe there are ways to be truthful without being an asshole. But count on this: Even with our best intentions, we will piss people off. We will also make them laugh. Make them cry. Make them think. Make them engage.

No matter how you interpret these things for yourself, being yourself is what will get you the success and fulfillment you deserve as a writer.

All the hard work will pay off. Just remember: Picking at warts only makes them worse. Cut them loose. Wash them away. Bleed.


Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn is a long-time, Chicago area, advertising/marketing writer, blogger and, for the last fifteen years, screenwriter. A big-time dreamer and proud of it, Sherry has had two short films produced, one in L.A., the other in New York. Both won several awards and screened at festivals but she is still "fighting the good fight," in order to become a full-time, working screenwriter. A passionate straight-shooter who never rests on her laurels, Sherry writes about damn near everything because how do you encapsulate…life? Unflinching in her determination to “just tell the truth,” Sherry strives to educate, engage and inspire others to follow their dreams. A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Sherry resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and their three fabulous felines.

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    • Laurie, that’s very kind. I’m glad you liked this. I’m always available for a push should you need/want one!!

  1. I don’t consider myself a writer even if I had to write a lot in my life and now I continue to write ……. but only to communicate in a community of people who are very good at writing and narrating.
    However, I believe that two principles control the emotional involvement of the public: empathy and authenticity. And I’ll explain:
    We know that storytelling is a ritual that wraps a life metaphor. To enjoy this ceremony we react to stories, well written, as if they were real. We suspend our cynicism and believe in the story until we find it authentic. The moment empathy is lost, empathy dissolves and we no longer feel anything.

  2. Sherry, I love your honest and entertaining pieces. You are truly unflappable, and your courage has no bounds. I often worry I will not have something to say, and maybe that will happen. So far so good. Keep sharing as you choose because you write in a way so many people wish they could but cannot or choose not.💖

    • Darlene, I’m guessing you have much to say. So let’s keep at it together! And thank you for your kind words!

  3. Well said Sherry! I like the raw. The real, cut out the questions type of work. What we can all relate to is being human. How we value ourselves and what affects that value. There are so many unpleasantries hidden and successes glorified. We aim to please… but now we must be real. It’s funny …in the digital realm I see so many say there is a lack of interpersonal skills in real life…. and yet I have seen so many people be so supportive, open and encouraging. Some we have never met and we are observed by our words…images… virtual interaction or real life. People want the truth…some of us want to tell it. Some just wont or don’t believe it. I speak my truth and write it too. The part about creativity though lies in the fact that every story written has as many versions as those who read it. We all see differently. Getting mathematical that’s 7.6 billion stories.. ok I’ll scale it down. Lol…. one story read by 10 people would mean 10 more stories from the original… I think I’m getting to deep here. Lol. I need to stop now. Lol. Thank you for this article, it’s very on point and something we lol ponder here I’m sure. Bringing it to life. When you live it you can write it. The real stuff makes a better read!
    Have a great weekend Sherry

    • Paula, I might be seeing this for the first time so forgive me. Been rather scattered lately, for many reasons. The “raw and the real.” Definitely. I’ll take that over empty rhetoric any day of the week. Thanks so much for commenting.

  4. I appreciate your honesty revealed here, Sherry.

    There was a time period that I wouldn’t dare write the content that I write now-yet, I kept writing. Like an obsession, I wrote to understand, to make sense, to purge, to pour out what was inside of me that no one seemed to want to hear. All that journaling… Lately, the words seem to flow from my soul, a place that feels new and unrecognizable, and I no longer question this. After years of living with a mind stuffed with really mean, bullying thoughts regularly reinforced by the actual, unkind, even cruel, spoken words of actual important human beings in my life, I committed to a long, grueling walk with therapists, healers, books, leadership trainings to uncover every single nasty from my past. I continue to “gas off” memories that seem unspeakable-the silent buried sh*& that I could hardly sit with let alone expose to the world in a written piece or a speech. What I now know is that the truth sets us free. Sharing the “what happened” as honestly as possible without adding anything-like the journalists you refer to-you see things that you hadn’t seen–you gain insight. Plus, writing from a place of deeper healing-the witness inside-that compassionate one who holds a non-judgmental space for what happened helps immensely. I guess I feel more like a hose that got unclogged or I stopped stepping on the garden hose. Unleashed, free to flow what comes…because I’m no longer terrified of my past or myself. Sometimes I feel anxious that I’ll say the F word in the wrong company, but even then, when I have, people have looked at me and said, “All words are allowed here.” which probably means I’ve likely found a group of people who have lived through some stuff that makes you want to say the F word A lot.

    I write because I must. I write because the practice of this opens me, frees me, allows me to take every beautiful and god awful thing that has happened in my life or that I have wondered about, felt passionate about, been curious about— the stuff that still “lights me up” or “annoys” me and flow it through a lens of a compassionate witness knowing that I am not alone. Humans experience a whole cornucopia of things-if one person who reads my words feels less alone in their human experience, then excellent. And on a good day that one person might only be me. Sometimes I don’t even track what the world wants or needs. I just chose to go deep inside and listen to what’s yearning to be expressed and write from that place.

    Thank you for your riff on how difficult writing can be when we are looking outside of ourselves rather than at the wealth of riches, unresolved crap, unopened drawers filled with detritus, the closets stuffed with unworn, hand-me-down clothes, the basement of dead people’s furniture along with the breath-taking artwork, the fuzzy blankets draped on the couch, the warm bed where we were recently sleeping after relishing our beloved one’s body on the inside of our internal worlds of memories, experiences lived-all of them. Everything remains inside of you for discovery. Your real stories matter. Your unique perspective matters for you are the only one on the planet who has lived Your life, felt things through your body, mind, heart, and soul. Your words matter. Your stories matter. May you keep writing!

    • Laura, the feeling you get, when someone gets YOU, is almost indescribable. And I feel that you get me, as I get you. (That’s a lotta “gets!”) But I truly do. And people like you are what fuel me to keep at it, even if there are those who don’t understand why I write the way I do. It’s the only way I know. If people choose not to read me, that’s fine. I still “unloaded.” Where else is there to write from, other than the heart? Thank you so much. Your comment is just beautiful. And heartfelt.

  5. Thanks for sharing this piece with us, Sherry. Similar to Mark, when my writing flows, everything feels as it should be. But when it feels stifled or choppy, or I’m struggling to get the words out, then I know it isn’t the time. So, I walk away. Sometimes it is for a few minutes, but other times it is a few days or even weeks. Is it writer’s block? Perhaps. But it could also be that I’m just not feeling it. And I’m learning to accept that this will happen. I’m also learning that inspiration strikes at the damndest times! So, I go with it.

    I think we each find our sync eventually. As for writing, I write from the heart and usually about life experience. It isn’t always easy, but shedding our layers shouldn’t be. We are works in progress, after all. Keep doing what you do, Sherry. It works: you draw the reader in, and you dive deep into the fortress of you. Only you can tell your story, and you can be damn sure at least one other person in the universe can relate.

    • Thanks so much, Laura. I believe you’re right. We do “each find our sync eventually.” For some, it takes longer than others, but the end result is what matters. I appreciate your reading and commenting. It means a lot to me.

  6. Oh Sherry!! This piece is perfect. I too have warts and prefer to freeze them. I never knew I was a writer until I could let go of the preconceptions you mention and write stories that were being held deep in my heart. And having a platform where we can be heard safely is also empowering. As you said, sometimes when you write, you wonder who will take it the wrong way, or judge you mercilessly. In an age of trolls that hide behind their computers, it can cause fear. Thank you for sharing your warts and darkness. It helps us all become more light.

    “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” ― Carl Gustav Jung

    With each story you share and each corner of your heart opened, you just get closer with others. We’re all a little dark – but at least we’re in it together!

    • JoAnna, thank you so much. You are unfailingly kind. I’ve learned a great deal from this community, most importantly, that it’s okay to show people who I really am. it may take a while to peel all the layers, but, it’s ultimately worth it. I appreciate you!!

    • Len, just read! What a delightful recollection! Thank you so much for sharing. Kathy has to be swept off her feet!! 😉

    • Sherry – Glad you enjoyed the recollection. So we can be honest in our writing and still bring a smile to the readers face or touch their hearts with deep emotion. It is all about the subject and the careful selection of words that create images in the mind of the reader. That what your writing has done – so keep it up.

  7. Sherry, this is what I call the writer’s curse. Are we to write every damn day until we’ve stretched the yarn into oblivion? Or should we reserve our fountain of expression for only those times when it matters most? I exist in the latter. I can’t write simply to please an audience. It has to please me first before I toss the rest of the Whopper against the window. Splat! Everyone has warts. I like a drink or three, among other flaws that hover on my shoulder like Gazoo. We’re all human. We all have skeletons, but we also have an inherent goodness that goodness sets us apart from the animals. I’ve always enjoyed your writing because you don’t sugarcoat or pretend. It’s your brash use of firepower that keeps readers coming back for more, so don’t sweep it under the rug… it’s who you are! Use it and abuse it as you see fit. If readers can’t handle your honesty, f*** ’em…

    • Oh, thank you, Aaron. Your words mean a great deal. Yes. I’ll just continue to be who I am. Some people will be drawn to that, others won’t. But hey, what are you going to do?

  8. Sherry, writing doesn’t feel like manufacturing to me. When I thought about how to explain that, I thought of something Dr. Karl Menninger said: “I tell myself to listen with affection to anyone who talks to me … This person is showing me his soul. It is a little dry and meager and full of grinding talk, just now, but presently he will begin to think … He will show his true self. Then he will be wonderfully alive.”

    When I feel like that — when my writing doesn’t feel like grinding talk, when it flows such that I feel wonderfully alive — that’s when I know I should be writing. Otherwise the work feels forced. And when I read it back to myself, always aloud, it feels and sounds contrived. It feels as if I’m trying to speak another person’s language or sing another person’s song.

    At the points at which writing is damn hard work, try doing something else. I have a script for a graphic novel (or a screenplay, depending on what happens with it) that wrote itself while I was on my bike. I’d go out and pedal for 30 or 40 or 50 miles while the characters determined what they were going to do. When I returned, I’d have 60 to 90 minutes of absolute lucidity in which I’d record what they did and said. That process repeated itself until the script was done. If I’d attempted to force-write it, the grinding laboriousness of it would have been evident.

    In short, maybe you need to go a little easier on yourself. There’s a writer in there. But she may not be ready to come out and play every day.

    That’s life … and writing.

    • Excellent advice, Mark. Admittedly, part of me is worn down as I grapple with finding a direction and sticking with it. My dream is to be a working screenwriter, but how long can I sit around waiting for the “magic” to happen? Should I turn one of my screenplays into a book? Should I keep looking for a damned job that know one seems to want to bestow, because, after all in spite of all my experience, I am not age-appropriate. Being so fractured is exhausting, but that’s one of the reasons I’m so happy to be here. So thank you.