Huffpost Books
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Steven Petite Headshot

Are All Fiction Writers Tormented?

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Robert Louis Stevenson. Philip K. Dick. Hunter S. Thompson. Ernest Hemingway. F. Scott Fitzgerald. William Styron. John Cheever. Raymond Carver. Jack Kerouac. John Kennedy Toole. Truman Capote. Hubert Selby. William Faulkner. David Foster Wallace. And so many more. All of the above are deceased. All of whom were driven to an early grave due to alcohol or substance abuse, depression or delusions of grandeur, lifestyles that limited their longevities. Each talented and missed. Every one of them sharing at least one trait: career choice.

But does anyone really choose to be a writer? I don't think so, and most writers will probably tell you that it would be much easier to pursue a normal profession if that is at all possible for you, but there is something about writing that draws people in, and is there a link between writing and the inner turmoil that exists within an individual. Does writing about imaginary people make you crazy? Does it mean that you are not satisfied with real life and the only way to escape is to spew everything out onto the page in order to release the demons (at least some of them).

People were in shock when Philip Roth announced his retirement from fiction writing. Do writers ever retire? Rarely. They usually die first. Even J.D. Salinger, who did not publish a word for the last 45 years of his life, continued to write every day. Perhaps writers do not write for an audience. Maybe Philip Roth still writes for himself because writing chose him; he did not choose it.

Choosing to be a writer would be like deciding to board the Titanic with the knowledge of what would inevitably happen when it hits the iceberg. That is not to say that writing is a profession that is full of only doom and gloom. There are many writers that I have not listed who have been successful without falling into the perils of drug abuse or self harm, and have seemingly appeared to live normal lives.

But no one that writes fiction is completely normal. It takes a special breed of human to be driven to the art of writing about characters that roam around inside the mind. Writing is a lonely profession. Most of the time spent, even for successful authors, is spent in total self doubt as their fingers continue to tap out new worlds, characters and visions of a life that does not exactly exist, without the knowledge of whether or not anyone will ever truly understand what the words really mean.

In some way, I think that all fiction writers are tormented, some, obviously more than others. As a fiction writer with little success in that area of writing, I can say without a doubt that I have my own demons, my own form of torment. At the same time, no one will ever understand the motivations of a writer completely. Each fiction writer is different, propelled to write for different reasons. I never chose to be a writer, writing chose me. If I don't write, I feel incomplete, as if I could die at any moment. I put words on the page for myself, not for others. I do this because I have to do it, an unexplainable conundrum that I will never completely understand, but I will continue to write until I take my last breath.