Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Is Writing a Misery?

Ask published writers about the process of writing and they often have very little good to say about it. It's arduous, it's torture, it's maddening. Sometimes, when one is pursuing a particular but elusive vision, I suppose writing can be all of those things. Consider the words of the greats: Georges Simenon, who said "Writing is not a profession, but a vocation of unhappiness." Or John Hall Wheelock, who said that "Most writers are in a state of gloom a good deal of the time; they need perpetual reassurance."

But, like everything, writing has a flip side. While I sometimes worry, even obsess over my writing and how it will be received (and oh how cruel the whole grind of publishing can be), I also take great joy from the characters I create. Sometimes I think I create them because they are often more likeable than real people, and I escape to my computer with the intention of visiting these fictional friends. This sounds like a movie review cliche, but my characters make me laugh AND cry while I'm creating them, and that's how I know they are almost real.

Cynthia Ozick called writing "an act of courage," while Anne Morrow Lindbergh saw it as a beautiful escape: "What release to write so that one forgets oneself, forgets one's companion, forgets where one is or what one is going to do next . . ."

I think that I agree the most with Thomas Costain: "I am convinced that all writers are optimists whether they concede the point or not."

It takes an optimist, doesn't it, to face a blank screen or a blank pad and to believe that it will, with work, become a manuscript of 300 pages. So what if that manuscript causes some problems along the way, or occasionally plunges one into gloom?

Odysseus tried for twenty years to reach the end of his labors, and in the end he was called great. This is every writer's secret optimistic goal: to struggle through the bad days, enjoy the good days, and eventually produce something that receives acclaim from the world.

(Pictured: my cat Rose contemplates my desktop).