I have to get something off my chest.
A writer I know posted on Facebook that he’d just completed another novel. He described the process of writing just one book as “painful” and “basically torture.”
He compared it to childbirth. That’s the kind of pain he experiences.
Then a bunch of other authors chimed in about how their books were — wait for it — like their children.
And I have to say this, because it struck a nerve in me: I don’t find any of this remotely true. In fact, I find it embarrassing. Lacking in perspective. And, okay, I’ll say it: pretentious.
Why do it then? Go drive a bus, work as a nurse, become a clerk in a crowded office.
Is the job really so hard? Making up stories? I’m typing this from my office, sitting on a soft chair, listening to music. That’s where I work. Not in a coal mine. Not at Walmart for minimum wage. Not in the hills of Afghanistan. I’m sitting at home, typing.
I’m lucky as hell. And every day — every single day — I know that’s true. There are thousands of good, talented people who would LOVE to earn a living this way. Writing a book? People dream about getting published, wish for it, strive for it.
We have no right to complain. None.
Torture? Get a grip.
Of course, my attitude is not popular and I’m usually smart enough to keep my mouth shut. I just bite my tongue and taste the warm blood in my mouth. I think to myself about my three living, breathing children — how amazing they are, the surprising things to do, their complicated feelings and incredible potential — and I have to say that not one of my books is remotely like my children. It’s just a tired, dead cliche that gets used over and over (and over, and over) again, by folks who professionally are supposed to reach for higher than the standard cliche.
Another writer I know recently complained on Facebook about how hard it is to name characters. She probably wanted sympathy. It can be lonely writing a book. You can be filled with doubt, uncertainty. It’s not always easy.
Oh, the agony, the torture. This is so hard I might have to go upstairs to make a cup of tea and gaze out the window for an hour. Just to calm down. Maybe eat a snack. Sally, Jack, Tim? Mitali, Miranda, Scott? The pain, the pain!
I know I can’t say any of this without insulting a bunch of authors, many of them accomplished, award-winning writers. Perhaps my own meager work hasn’t been torturous enough? My wife is a midwife. She works so hard. Lisa gets calls through the night, labors with patients for hours, goes sleepless for 36-hour stretches. These are life and death situations, sometimes involving the deepest sorrows.
“Honey, get the water board, I’m ready to revise!”
Poor me! This awful burden of talent I’m forced to carry!
While I was stewing these past couple of days, feeling alienated and repulsed, I came across a blog post by one of my favorite current writers, Joe Posnanski. He reposted an old entry about his greatest day in sportswriting. You should click here, it’s a pretty terrific piece.
Be warned though, Joe tends to blog at length, as if he’s having too much fun to stop. Toward the end of this enjoyable story, he makes a little turn and — eureka, there it was — the exact words I needed to find. Somebody on this planet, a writer I respect, coming at this issue from a shared perspective. It’s why we read, you know. Sometimes writers can articulate something that strikes us as exactly right, hard and shining and true. A real thing.
Joe Posnanski wrote:
“People often ask me how I handle writer’s block — well knock on wood, thank my lucky stars, I’ve never had it. My thought about writer’s block is basically that my Dad worked in a factory almost his whole life, and he never had ‘factory block.’ Sometimes the words don’t come as easily as others, but you do what you have to do.”
That is, you go to work.
And you don’t complain about it. Or whine in public. Or compare it to freaking torture. You try to remember that you are extraordinarily fortunate to have this great gift of a career. We get paid to write books.
Be grateful. And shut up.