Thursday, March 01, 2007

Loving the Craft

About once a month I run across the idea that you must suffer for your art. There are a number of variations on the theme, but one of the more common one for writers is of the sweating blood variety—writing is easy, I just stare at the blank page until the blood I'm sweating spills all over it. This drives me crazy. So does the oft quoted Everybody hates to write. Everybody loves to have written which is usually attributed to Hemingway.

If it hurts that much to do something, it's probably not a good idea. (Okay, there are subset of writers who can't not write and who hurt themselves in the process. This has always struck me as terribly unhealthy, but everyone's got their kinks.) However, excluding the compulsive writing masochists, if writing doesn't make you happy, why are you doing it?

The monetary rewards are low, arbitrary, and rare, so you really need to find the process emotionally rewarding if you're going to do it. I write because there’s nothing in the world I’d rather do. I love every minute of it, from the conception of an idea to fussing with final drafts. Yes, I love having written, but I love writing more. It brings me joy. That's why I do it. It's actually quite simple.


Anonymous said...

I really don't think anyone who doesn't love writing writes much. I mean yes, that would be nuts. Who would do this for the money, glamour and fame?

I do, however, think many of us who write get frustrated with writing or have PARTS of the writing process that we don't much enjoy. And this isn't really different than any profession. When I was a university professor I loved teaching but I loathed the pointless committee work and stupid politics. When I was a nursing assistant I adored the elderly people I cared for but I hated the pain and loneliness I saw and I wasn't fond of changing adult diapers, either. Heck, as a parent I love many aspects of parenting but I can't say I love ALL of it. Come on. On my bad days one slack-jawed sullen teenage look is enough to make me question the existence of all children everywhere, lol.

So most writers are, I think, simply exercising their gods-given write to bitch about the part of their job they hate, just like any average working Joe or Jane. And given that so many of us are prone to excessive wordiness about just about anything (raising hand here), it can look like we must loathe writing. But really I think we are just expressing normal frustration using lots and lots of words. Because that's what we do, right?


Also, you know, it is simply human nature to say ten times as much about the bad stuff as you do about the good stuff. Especially on the Internet!

Kelly McCullough said...

True dat, Muneraven,

Especially that those who don't love it probably don't do much of it. And it isn't so much the kvetching that bugs me as it is the seemingly genuine arguement running through a substantial percentage of writing posts and articles that suggests that if it doesn't hurt, you're doing it wrong.

Maybe that's all being done by people who write about writing rather than people who actually write, but I see an awful lot of it, and occasionally it just makes me want to scream.

Anonymous said...

I tend to find the process to be a lot of work and extremely rewarding emotionally. I'm gettign better at writing, and it's something that I've been doing for the significant majority of my life. Like getting a good workout in and feeling exhilarated afterward, writing energizes me.

But there are a lot of people who want to "be writers", not really want to write. We all know people like that: who hang out with writers, who even write from time to time, and who really want to hang their hat on that identity--but writing itself is overwhelmingly difficult for them, even painfully difficult. That's where I really agree with you; if you aren't getting anything out of it, why are you doing it? Like anything, I think people need to be rigorously honest with themselves about their reasons for doing this and what they intend to accomplish.

I'm not saying that there aren't days when you don't want to sit down and do that work. Work avoidance is an art form in its own right... but no matter how avoidant you want to be, if you need to do it, and if you really love it, you'll find that Heinlein's rules of writing are all that matter:

1. You Must Write
2. You Must Finish What You Write

Kelly Swails said...

I'm with Kelly Y: usually I like the whole process, from conception to final draft. Sure, some bits are painful, but nothing that a good night's sleep can't fix. I write because if I didn't I wouldn't feel whole.

Michael Merriam said...

CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan talks all the time in her live journal ( how much she hates writing. When Elizabeth Bear asked her why she writes if she hates it so much, Caitlin replied that writing was the only thing she could do.

Personally, if I ever start to hate writing, I'll stop.