The Grind

My three daughters were once all in Girl Scouts. Ordinarily, my wife, who was their Girl Scout leader, together with one of her co-leaders, would drive them and the rest of their troop to their camping destinations. One weekend, however, all the co-leaders with vehicles were unable to go, while the one co-leader who could go, did not have a vehicle. Our mini-van could carry eight, but since there were ten girls in the troop, my wife couldn’t do it alone. So I had to volunteer to drive some of them on that particular weekend.

Thankfully, I did not have to actually spend that weekend camping with a bunch of Girl Scouts. I simply had to drive them to the camp on Friday, and then return to pick them up on Sunday.
The camp site was only a half hour away, so it was not a horrible task. On the drive back on Sunday, following this particular camp out, one of the children asked me a question that sounds very simple: “is writing a book hard?”

Initially I mumbled something incoherent.

Then I asked her if she had ever had to write essays in school. After getting an affirmative answer, I inquired as to their length.

“I had to write a two page essay once.”

“Okay,” I said, “the book I just wrote is about three hundred typed pages.”

She squeaked like a mouse.

“But you don’t write it all at once.” I added quickly. “You do a little bit each day. For about a month. Or three.”

I’m not certain that made the child feel any better. I decided not to go into the rewriting process. She was now convinced that writing a book was the most awful thing she could possibly imagine.

But I really don’t think that writing a book is very hard or very horrible. I mean, how hard can it be? I was barely sixteen when I finished writing my first one.

But it’s really like any job, I suppose.

If it’s something you do, day in and day out, you don’t think about it being so tough. You also don’t think about it being fun. That’s why it’s called work. You just get up in the morning and do it. Like teaching ancient Hebrew. Only people who don’t do it think it’s exotic.

For instance, if your neighbor has never repaired a toilet, then she may imagine that toilet repair is hard. If you don’t fly an airplane, then flying an airplane might seem akin to doing magic. Or repairing cars is an arcane science requiring sacrifices and incantations. Likewise the process of designing aircraft. Or teaching algebra. Or English. But if it’s what you do, and you’ve been doing it for a while, you don’t really give it much thought any more—no matter what it is. It’s just your job: the thing you do instead of sleeping. And in some sense, every job is hard and hateful—or easy and satisfying—or some combination thereof, depending on how you’re feeling about it late in the afternoon after not sleeping so well the night before.

Even your dream job sooner or later, at one time or another, is simply a grind. You don’t wait for inspiration. It’s not romantic. It’s just a job and you just do it, regardless of how you feel.

If you don’t see writing as just a job like that, you’d best not try to become a writer.

On the other hand, sometimes writing is nothing at all like doing high school essays multiplied by infinity. Sometimes it really is the most wonderful thing ever and as easy as eating a chocolate cake and nearly as satisfying. All jobs are like that on occasion. That’s why we can endure them, I suppose.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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