To those who are readers and not writers, please stay with me. I am mostly addressing writers in this blog post, but I hope it gives you a little insight, plus I have thoughts you might enjoy at the end.
While I was on Facebook within the last week or so, an ad for a writers’ conference came up. The following quote led the ad:
“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as a dying friend. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.” — Annie Dillard
I literally stopped and sat there staring at it, dumbfounded. Seriously, people felt this way?
I went to look at the comments and so many people agreed with the quote. I really wanted to blast back with my own comment, but I refrained. (Especially since the little voice in my head said, “Don’t you have a blog for that?”)
I have struggled with books, yes. I have even struggled to write when I was at a strange season of my life (hormones?). I have ripped them to shreds and pieced them back together again hoping that no one would realize that I had created Frankenstein’s monster. But I have never had a book lie there dying while I am praying for it to live.
That, to me, is writing to struggle.
That kind of sentiment says, “Flail me now because I’m not worthy. I must be tortured and tormented. I am ‘an artist’ and I must suffer for my art.”
Here me loud and clear on this: that is a myth and if you are following it, get off the path now and go find something you enjoy!
Life is too short to torment yourself. You are meant to thrive, not survive in a bog. If you aren’t having fun writing, if you aren’t giving it your heart and soul while screaming with your hands in the air, then neither are your readers.
Now, I realize that Dillard is a literary author, but my point remains the same.
Struggling to write might mean forcing yourself to put your butt in the chair and do the work. It might mean getting through tasks so that you can sit down. For me, a lot of times, it means waiting not-so-patiently for that next moment when I get to write. I will snatch every spare moment I can. I’ve been known to write while standing in the line at the grocery store because I need to write NOW.
But writing to struggle is a whole other thing. Put your hand to your forehead and sigh. Oh, you are such a martyr. A victim. Fall to vices like drugs and alcohol because that’s what writers do, yes? I write, therefore I starve. Come, gentle reader, I will hold your hand while hoping you will recover. Aren’t we pathetic? Sob, sob. Choke, choke.
Yeah, please, lie down on the path now and let me step over you.
No, I don’t carry such ‘romantic’ ideals about writing. My vice is coffee because I like it and I like to have a cup (hot or cold) beside me while I write — it’s just a brain thing. I don’t write to be cherished forever and ever. I don’t want people having snooty discussions about the ‘meanings’ of my books (not to say that I haven’t already heard some quite inventive ones, and some of them might have been intentional). I write to tell a good story. I write to entertain, I write to give someone an escape and an adventure.
If you want to write, the choice is ultimately yours, but do know your reason for writing. Do you choose to be the drama queen who gets little done because you’re too busy letting your story be a victim to your tragic accident of deciding to write a book? Or do you want to go from ride to ride, getting new and different thrills each time?
Readers: now I’m going to address you as I promised. Let me ask you which you think is better. Now, I do believe literary fiction can be quite fun, so I’m not going to nit-pick at literary fiction, which is usually the one that gets hauled out as an example of dramatic writing where writers are known to struggle. But, I think you know even in a genre (that’s your categories like romance, sci-fi, fantasy, western, etc.) fiction when a writer’s heart isn’t in the story they are telling. We’ve all seen flat stories. I bet you can name several. That is the novel as a dying friend where there is no hope.
Don’t you want hope?
Don’t you want people to enjoy reading the story with you?
Don’t you want to root for the characters?
I do. I also want more people to read and I think that one of the reason that people don’t like to read is because they think every book is this snooty piece with lots of ‘meaning’ to it that it takes an English teacher to decipher for them.
I, for one, want people to pick up one of my books, have a great ride, and decide they want to reach for another adventure (whether it is mine or another writer’s). It’s the story that counts. It’s always the story.
Notice in the quote that Dillard says book. Not story. That too may be a critical difference. She knows she is writing a book and I focus on telling a story (then I rip the book to shreds and put it back together – grin).
So, am I going to the writers’ conference? Heck, no! If that’s their ad, then I am better off staying home and writing my next story. The attendees at that conference can sit around and wonder why they aren’t writing. Meanwhile, I’ll be doing it.