There's a quote by Flannery O'Connor that often makes the rounds on Facebook:
"Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I'm always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system."
I see her point that writing isn't an escape from reality: It's an attempt to make something out of reality. But "terrible experience"?
Being stuck in London for six weeks last Summer with a knee injury I couldn't have operated on until I got back to the U.S., being sleepless, exhausted, and in almost constant pain -- that was terrible. Being in a car accident in the Fall and suffering a concussion and broken finger, that was terrible, too. Having painful, complicated hand surgery recentlthat made me rely on so much Percocet I hallucinated, well that was also terrible. Losing my mother to dementia over the course of a decade? Lightyears beyond terrible. But writing? No way.
I've published seven comic mysteries, one suspense novel, one historical novel, a vampire novella, and two literary novels along with 13 other books in different genres. Every one of them has been a total joy to write. Sure, they each had challenges of form or style or research and some took a long time to write, but the experience of writing them was never even remotely terrible. Not one of them made me suffer (publishing, now that's something else entirely).
I love writing. I love re-writing. I love creating new worlds, feeling like Mandy Patinkin in Sunday in the Park with George when he sings as the painter Georges Seurat, "Look, I made a hat...Where there never was a hat." Writing is hard work, but it's not just fun, sometimes it's bliss. As for writing a novel or any other book, what could be better? Working on one, I feel enveloped, protected, uplifted, transported. It's the best sort of vacation.
But people who don't write, as O'Connor suggests, might think it's not really work at all, it's just goofing off. So I suspect some writers feel they have to portray themselves as suffering, tormented, and besieged. If they make the profession sound as arduous as mountain climbing, or a cross they have to bear, maybe the world will take them more seriously. Does the PR convince anyone? I don't think so, given all the people over the years who've told me that they would write a book - -if only they had a little time.
It's popular for writers to moan about how agonizing writing is and how they dread writer's block as if it were one of the Ten Plagues (or a visiting Kardashian), but the general public just doesn't buy that line. Wannabe writers do, however, since they snap up books about writer's block as if they were taking a multi-vitamin or a supplement like ginkgo biloba. It's as if enjoying yourself when you write is somehow suspect, and to prepare yourself for your craft, you have to be to suffer. Constantly.
But when writers complain about writing, their audience really ends up being other writers, and many of us think, "If it makes you so damned miserable, just get another job already and quit griping. Find something that makes you happier. Please?"
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