Author Eric Hoffer discusses the pain of writing

By Dennis Mellersh

The creative thinking process, when applied to the craft or art of writing original material can be painful and difficult for expert and beginner alike.

Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman/philosopher, who became famous for his originality in writing non-fiction about the human condition, confessed that the act of writing was quite difficult for him.

The process was made even more onerous by the fact that, once he became established as a recognized writer, people had higher expectations of his work than they did when he was first discovered as someone who worked on the shipping docks but who wrote serious non-fiction in his spare time.

One of his books, Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, consists of entries he made in a series of notebooks or journals he kept from from June 1958 to May 1959, and outlines some of his writing struggles.

In the preface to the book, Hoffer explains that during that period he believed that in his lifelong thinking, “I had probably had only one train of thought, that everything I had written stemmed from a central preoccupation, and that I might go through life and never discover what it was. I had to sort things out; talk to somebody. So on June 1, 1958, I began a diary.”*

In the diary entry for August 4, 1958, Hoffer writes about his difficulty in the act of writing:

“It is important that I should note the difficulty and pain I experience in writing…Since the publishing of a couple of books, I have been cast in the role of a writer, and without being aware of the utter absurdity of it, I have come to expect things to flow out of my finger tips. The truth is that I have to hammer out each sentence, and must hang onto an idea for ages if aught worthwhile is to be written.” (1)

(1) Eric Hoffer, Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, A Journal June 1958 – May 1959, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1969.

* Hoffer eventually realized that his central subject or theme was change.

About Dennis Mellersh

Dennis Mellersh is an independent writer, journalist, editor, and editorial consultant.
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