On Getting to Work

I’m writing this from a friend’s borrowed apartment in New York City.  Sun streams in through the east-facing windows.  The air-conditioner hums.  Outside, a bus sighs — that’s how it has always sounded to me, like a long, exhausted exhale — four floors below, on Columbus Avenue.  I have a few hours until my lunch date.  I’m showered.  Caffeinated.  Alone.  And… why is it so hard to get to work?  The world out there is noisy, but the world inside my head is even noisier.  I could blame over-stimulation from all the travel, teaching, and public speaking.  I could blame my husband or my kid.  I could blame my in box, flooding with things I need to take care of, or feel guilty for not taking care of.

Or I could blame myself.  That’s what I tend to do.  It’s what most of us usually do, isn’t it?  Out comes the whip.  We’re lazy, stuck, worthless.  Our ideas are shallow, uninteresting, tepid.  What’s our problem?  Why can’t we just crank out pages like some literary version of a well-oiled machine?

I’ll tell you why not.  Because this writing thing is hard.  It always feels good to have written, but it rarely feels good to sit down to write.  If I were to describe my own physical process, it’s like a nearly-unbearable tension within me slowly begins to rise.  A welling up of so many thoughts and feelings that it feels I might explode.  And yet, at the same time, there is the seeming impossibility of finding the words, of knowing what’s next, of getting it right.  Shoulders tense.  Jaw tightens.  Eyes sting.  Breath becomes shallow.  Mind buzzes in circles endlessly.  The page is a solid wall at which I must run, full tilt, and only by running, only by hurling myself straight at it might it crumble and give way.  But it appears so solid!  So unforgiving!  Sometime I bang against it, and limp away, bruised and bloody.  Other times, it turns out the wall was just a mirage.  But there’s only one way to find out.

So.  How to begin?  Improbably enough, we must begin with kindness.  What do we need right now?  What do you need?  Another cup of coffee?  A few moments of meditation?  A deep, cleansing breath?  A shot of courage?  A reminder that everyone who is sitting alone in her room, right at this very moment, is on some continuum of this very same process?  We are all alone.  And we are also all in this together.

On your marks.  Get set.  Go.



  • Sarah

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I SO needed to hear this today.

    • Danishapiro

      You are so welcome:)

  • Ryder Ziebarth

    Lizzie is home, the puppy needs a walk, I am waiting for a packet response and I just can’t seem to get my game on.It’s the worst because I was really on my way until my daughter arrived 8 days ago…I love being with her, talking, walking, shopping….every thing else melts away, including my writing. But now that I have learned this lesson, I better understand myself as a writer.She leaves this afternoon, and I will first have a good cry, then go out to the cottage to work.

    • Danishapiro

      Sounds just about right, Ryder. xx

  • Alexis

    This is so true. I needed to hear that today too.

    • Danishapiro

      I’m so glad.

  • karen walker

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if it were like the wall in the train station in Harry Potter that magically melts when you hurdle yourself into it?

    • Danishapiro

      Oh, wouldn’t it?

  • Girl_Detective

    I feel this post in my guts. Last night I finished a draft, and sitting down to work on it over the past weeks made me feel nauseated, like I was simultaneously attracted to and repelled by the chair. I was reminded of Douglas Adams’s description of how to fly: throw yourself at the ground, then forget it’s there, which is so close to your wall analogy!

    • Danishapiro

      There is also, of course, the swimming pool that may or may not be filled with water…

  • Feeling the same way! Nice to know I’m in such good company.

    • Danishapiro


  • Raymond Cothern

    At the risk of name-dropping again and using a quote I may have used in some previous comment, my old novel-writing teacher Walker Percy once told me I was a writer and just needed to get my logistics straight. At the time he meant being back in school at age 29, being married with two daughters, and having to work at part time jobs while finding time to write. Having sorted out those logistics long ago, his quote to me now means dealing with the emotional logistics of the rising tension you mentioned before sitting down to write, the “impossibility of finding the words,” the tensing of shoulders and shallow breaths before charging the solid wall. That fright we writers feel before creating is merely what it feels to be alive and confronting the everyday
    mountains with a pen as pickaxe.

    • Danishapiro

      Exactly, Raymond. Thank you.

  • Kimberley McGill

    Reading your post brought tears at the point when you described the physical sensations as the tension to write rises. I think you’re the first writer I’ve ever heard describe what I experience. And yes, kindness – thank you for that reminder.

    • Danishapiro

      I’m so glad. And you’re welcome. I think it’s so important to remember that this is the process, and it’s normal. It may not feel good, but it it part of what most of us go through, alone in our rooms.

  • Ayala

    On the ocean today fighting a fish and watching sharks surround our boat I thought of this, for a moment inspiration came and left and I attempted to stay anchored in the moment. I was out in the ocean,why was I drifting into an endless buzzing. You are right we need to be kinder to ourselves and to others. We are all in this together !

    • Danishapiro

      Actual sharks! How refreshing!

  • I don’t know why it’s so reassuring to hear other writers articulate it, but it is. Thanks for sharing your own unbearable tension here.

    • Danishapiro

      You’re so welcome, Addie:)

  • Writing has never been something that has come natural to me and as I’m now venturing into the online world of websites, blog and e-books there is really no way to not just sit (or lie…) down and just do it. I’m happy to discover I’m not alone in the struggle of getting those beautiful ideas and thoughts trapped in our spaghettilike brains on paper 🙂

    • Danishapiro

      You’re most definitely not alone. Thanks for stopping by!

  • helens

    Sitting here avoiding the stories I’m working on. A teacher of mine described what we do as “wrestling alligators.” Some mornings it’s hard to find the courage. Your words helped.

    • Danishapiro

      I’m glad to hear this, Helen. Thanks.

  • Andrea Cumbo

    Goodness this is lovely, and I wish I had read it before I wrote my own meditation on how writing is hard. 🙂 I would have just linked over and said, “Yes. This.” Thank you.

    • Danishapiro


  • At times I feel like I’m in charge of a preschool class run amok as I chase after one particular story that is running among all the other stories running around in my head while also competing with the daily barrage of life wanting my attention. I’ve often wondered if I have ADD.

    • Danishapiro

      I love all these metaphors. Wrestling alligators. Pre-school class gone amok. This is just simply the writer’s mind. Take a deep breath!

  • Rosemary Thompson

    It’s the strangest thing. I’m sitting at my
    desk, sorting through pages of ideas, notes, scribblings, wondering how I can
    write something amazing today, and I stumble upon the line, “Still
    Writing” by Dani Shapiro. The next thing I know, I’m reading your blog,
    and loving it! Every sentence I read I’m like, “Yes! Exactly! Of course
    she gets it! This writing thing IS HARD !!” And knowing that even you feel
    that way, helps me feel better. Thank you Dani.

    • Danishapiro

      You’re so welcome, Rosemary!

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  • Dani I found you today by way of “The Write Life” 100 Best. Great read and I especially loved your conclusion: Be kind to yourself. I write every day but my stuff is all over the place. I decided yesterday to get something down, something presentable, every day. Organizing it is another story…and another. I have dozens written, poems, videos, artwork. It pours out of me. So for me today kindness would involve the same organization I bring to my job for myself. =)

    • Krithika Rangarajan

      Me too – thank GOD for that list, huh? 😀

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    BRILLIANT, Dani! Thank you! #HUGS

    I need a moment of kindness right now, so off I go to play with my pup, Oreo 😉


  • Luah

    I met you at Elle May 15 No. 357 Issue. I am in love with your column: The Haters Gonna Hate. Actually the title should be: It doesn’t matter if you are the Whiskey. You’re words really strikes a cord with me who has turned 35 and still looking for acceptance as if I was 10 years old. I have created such a disdain for who I am that I have believed it and it took a life coach and my husband to make me realize that I am perfect just as I am…the struggle is believing it for myself. Thank you for your writing! Please keep on and please push forward because I get the sense that humans are not so good to each other and it takes inspiring writers like you to remind us that we can change all of that in a split second.

    Thank you for being…