Writing – pleasure and/or satisfaction?


As AcWriMo 2021 finishes off, so am I. The self-imposed discipline of producing the first draft of a short book ( 50k words) in a month is just about over. I began the month with 14k words in hand and finished with just over 51K. A good effort.

Better come clean though. 51k is not quite as impressive as it seems, as the book is based largely on patter blog posts. There was already a bank of material available for me to work with. However, I did have to rewrite existing text into a somewhat less bloggy ‘voice’, wrestle discrete chunks into a structure that made sense, write new material to fill the gaps and turn some posts into exercises. New work was required.

At the end of this month I do feel a strong sense of satisfaction – I’ve got the draft done. But I can’t say it was a pleasurable process.

Some dictionary definitions say that pleasure is a sense of satisfaction, happiness and enjoyment. Similarly, satisfaction is defined as fulfilment of expectations, goals, wishes and needs or the pleasure derived from attaining these. Pleasure and satisfaction are one and the same thing. Well I beg to differ.

Before this month, I hadn’t thought a lot about whether there was any difference between satisfaction and pleasure. Whether one was possible without the other. And I accept that they might be the same most of the time. But I have a somewhat different perspective now. I do think pleasure and satisfaction are not necessarily the same.

I normally find writing a pleasurable process. Even when the going is tough and I need time away from the desk thinking through a knotty problem, the process is enjoyable. I can’t say the same for this book. I haven’t really enjoyed getting up early every single day and spending at least thirty minutes at the desk. I don’t mind doing that for a few days a week. My regular writing habit is actually not every day, but most days. But I’ve found the relentlessness of November pretty hard.

Despite not finding the writing pleasurable, I was however well satisfied with the progress that I was making. I was buoyed by being able to file completed chapter after chapter as I ploughed on through the month. And it was a truly satisfying moment on Sunday morning when I had the first draft done. Today I will put all of the chapters into one document and set up a new folder for redrafting. I might even take another moment to congratulate myself too. But was this a good time? Did I feel pleasure in the writing? Do I want to do a book again in the same pressure cooker? Not on your Nellie.

I have written this many words in a similar time frame before. More than once. So the 51k word count in this time frame isn’t that uncommon. I write quickly. I usually relish the creativity in finding the words to express an idea. A well-turned sentence is particularly pleasing. Writing is pleasurable in part because it is also surprising thinking. I enjoy seeing the argument develop and unexpected insights appear in spite of my best laid plans.

At other highly productive writing times I have been excited by the process of putting-thoughts-into-text. And this could have been the case this month, even though I was working with known material. But I had signed myself up to AcWrimo.

AcWriMo – or rather, the way that I interpreted AcWriMo2021 – placed the emphasis on end point, the product. The writing became the means to an end, rather than something good in itself. And my sense of must-reach-the-end wasn’t helped by having a research report due at the same time – even though I wasn’t first authoring it (heartfelt thanks Toby), there was still a real deadline with a public launch attached. So November was dogged writing to reach one full draft and another final text. Well, I got the job done.

But I’m really not doing this again. I’m not ungrateful to AcWriMo2021 for giving me the push and structure to make a writing leap forward. But this year’s experience has made me swear that next time I won’t be writing anything as potentially pleasurable as a book in such a compressed time frame. I want to let the writing spool out in a less pressured way. I want the writing to find its own measure, its own rhythms.

So when AcWriMo comes around next year, I might set myself a goal of writing for pleasure, rather than writing for product. And I imagine the pleasure wont come at the expense of being satisfied. I’ll be doubly pleased this time next year. Don’t let me forget.