Work, Woe, & This Thing We Call Writing

Satellite TV being rather spottily available in China, I got stuck with Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods as the best of my limited options for entertainment during my Monday exercise session. I mean no disrespect to Bizarre Foods; it’s a perfectly good show. But on general principle, while I’m running I try to avoid watching shows starring food; I’m already physically miserable (sweaty, tired, etc.) without being reminded of how hungry I am. That’s a self-torture I just don’t need in my life–especially since I’m not the biggest fan of running as it is (hence my need for distraction via visual stimulation).

But my limited viewing options wound up being a happy accident. The episode playing that day happened to focus on Sriracha sauce. I couldn’t catch all the details since my earbuds were pumping out Florida Georgia Line at a respectable volume, but the show’s subtitles did highlight one gem. The founder of Huy Fong Foods, the company that produces what is to Americans probably the Sriracha sauce–you know, the iconic one with the rooster label and green lid?–is David Tran, a Vietnamese-American. While speaking with Andrew Zimmern, he said something to the effect of:

The hours of work I put in today will be the hours of success I receive back tomorrow. If you’re not successful today, it is because you didn’t work hard enough in the past.

Tran’s philosphy (which I paraphrase, as jotting notes and running are not activities to be done in tandem) is a pretty simple one. But it hit me profoundly.

When I’m in a good place, it’s only every few months that I consider quitting this whole writing thing, and then only passingly. But when I’m in a bad place?

Well, then the frequency ratchets right up, to once a week, once a day, even once an hour during the roughest stretches. Because as anyone can attest who has written at all seriously, this writing thing is hard. You feverishly cultivate ideas, stretching and pulling and prodding them into some workable shape. Then you craft them into pitches and queries, sending those into the great wide void before sitting back to bite your nails as you hope for an acceptance, but anticipate rejection… or worse, everlasting radio silence. Writing-process WoeYou spend long, lonely, solitary hours creating outlines and arguments for nonfiction, characters and plots for fiction. Following this are the hours spent turning these ideas into actual words that you hope–fingers crossed!–sing. But this writing stage is followed by the editing stage, where you sometimes have to jettison hours and hours of work for the good of the whole manuscript. This is the stage where you hone what you’ve written until you’re sick to death of your own product. And then, if all lines up as ideally as possible and your writing actually makes it to the world in published form, there settles into your belly a simmering anxiety about how it will be received. Have you realized your idea to its fullest, done it real justice? Will people love it or hate it, or worse, greet it only with indifference? Does your talent sparkle–or, God forbid, are you shown to be talent-less after all?! Will your readers confirm you as the fraud you’ve always feared yourself to be?

In short, this  process–which, for writers, is just business as usual–can seem like an awful lot of work and stress for relatively little reward. Somedays, it’s difficult to see it as anything but a losing proposition.

But Tran’s perspective is the truer one. The work I, or you, put in today will see us reaping rewards tomorrow, next week, next year, a decade from now. Because every word I pen–even those that get cut, or rejected, or relegated to my archive folders–is helping me grow as a writer and thinker, a person and artist.

And so I sit down at my desk again today, and make plans to do it again tomorrow.

(Featured image from; “Circle of Woe” image from

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