Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy Writer

Aspects of Justine's enormously useful post on rewriting have inspired me to write a post I hadn't planned.

It's really all because of this paragraph: Reading through what you have written with all those contradictory and annoying comments scrawled in the margins will most likely fill you with despair. Don’t worry: Despair is an integral part of the rewriting process. Your despair will deepen. When you’ve been over a manuscript four or five or twenty or a hundred times you’ll know the true meaning of despair.

This idea drives me crazy. Yes, despair can be a part of the process, and for many writers it is. But "integral?" No, I don't think so. I've certainly felt despair as a writer, but always over the business, never over the writing. I love writing. I love rewriting too. I even love finding those structural flaws Justine talks about. Do I like that they're there? No. But I love the problem solving game involved in fixing them.

I actually find the idea that every writer must have moments of massive self-doubt and misery over their work to be deeply pernicious. It has the potential to cause happy writers to either devalue their own non-despair inducing process or to seek out misery in hopes that it will improve their work. And that's just not right. There's nothing wrong with enjoying the whole thing.

If you do happen to feel despair as part of the process, that's all right--there are 1,001 ways to write a novel, every one of them right. But if you don't, don't beat yourself up over it. Revel in not suffering for your art. For a longer take on that, go read Jane Yolen's wonderful book on writing: Take Joy.

The process doesn't have to hurt.


Michael Merriam said...

I was on a panel at CONvergence a few years ago with where we talked about being happy writers. I liked the idea of sitting on a panel and dispelling the myth of the tortured artist suffering for his art.

Sure, there are moments of frustration. There are moments where I throw up my hands and yell, "Bah!" Those are usually the moments when I realize that I'm not terribly good at this and need to become better.

But as a whole, I'm a happy writer. I get miserable when I'm not writing.

Anonymous said...

I get miserable when I'm not writing.

I'm totally the same way.

Anonymous said...

Ditto on not writing.

My despair, such as it tend to occur, is more in the sense that I don't feel as if I have enough time to write. I'm prfectly comfortable with the fact that I need to learn a great deal more in order to become a good writer, so there's no despair there. Frustration, as Michael said? Yes. But not despair.

Anonymous said...

Ditto. I become a depressed bear, growling and whining. And of course, not writing. Once I sit down and get back to work, I remember YET AGAIN how happy putting words on paper makes me. Someday I'll learn the lesson once and for all!

Stephanie Zvan said...

I'll admit to moments of terror, in which I wonder whether I've finally come up against something I can't do, but despair requires more certainty than that. And the even terror is accompanied by a certain little demon joy that I'm about to find out what I can do. There's nothing quite like dancing along on the edge of failure at a thousand decisions a minute.

Theo Nicole Lorenz said...

Ditto again on not writing. I'm currently sitting on a pivotal scene that isn't working, but I'm nowhere near as unhappy as I get when I don't have time to write.

I had a painting instructor once lecture my class on how all real artists suffered for their art - if you were happy with what you were producing, you would never improve. It blew me away. Sure, some people suffer and despair and that only drives them further, but not everyone has that ability for artistic masochism. I know I don't.

Kelly McCullough said...

Not writing makes me very unhappy too, just as writing makes me happy. The unhappy artist thing just drives me crazy. Anyone who knows anything about the business knows that the rewards are infrequent and monetarily low on the average. If it also makes you unhappy, why do it?

This is not what Justine is saying at all, she's just pointing out that parts of the process make her crazy. But even so, I think it's important to note that it doesn't have to be that way, that even rewrite can be fun.

Michael Merriam said...

While I find rewriting harder work than creating a first draft, I still enjoy it. I like trying to puzzle out how make the scenes fit together into a coherent narrative. I like the discovery of, if I combine these two characters and change this other character to this, the story gets stronger and leaner. I like chasing down passive voice and flabby verbs and ruthlessly weeding them out of my prose.

And yes, I am in the middle of a major rewrite. Why do you ask?

Anonymous said...

Never would've guessed, Michael. Veal Gluck.

Kelly Swails said...

When I'm not writing for whatever reason--usually when life gets in the way--I get grumpy. When my writing isn't going well, I get grumpy. Do I feel despair? No. If I felt despair I'd quit and do something else.