For quite a while now I’ve had a love/hate relationship with writing that is heavily weighted toward ‘hate’. Perhaps hate is too strong a word but – let me put it this way. I think I may write only because I’m too unbalanced to do much of anything else.
People assume that I love what I do and that I’m thrilled to be living my dream. And it’s true, no question, I’m living my dream. This is what I’ve wanted for a long time, and I worked like a maniac, for years and years, to get it. It’s just that when people say things like “Don’t you love it?” I find I have to resist the impulse to break into hysterical laughter.
It’s more like two things.
I am completely unbearable when I am not writing. To myself and to others. Writing does somehow burn off something that is set too high in me and keeps me down to some manageable level. I have noticed this about quite a few writers I know. Writing is agony, but not writing is so, so much worse.
And on a more positive note – which I feel somewhat on because I just actually turned in something (my first short story, for the illustrated noir superhero anthology, THE DARKER MASK, out from Tor in January 2008, conceived and edited by Chris Chambers and Gary Phillips) – I do get a huge satisfaction out of FINISHING. As Dorothy Parker said, oft-quotedly: “I hate writing – I love having written.”
It is immensely satisfying to be able to hand someone a stack of pages – or, now, miraculously, a published book – and have them experience a STORY – an entire universe and characters and situations you dreamed up – that can evoke such an emotional response. That you can put your own dream into someone else’s head.
But there are undeniably satisfying moments along the way. And I’m thinking there might be more of those when you write a short story. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the writing of this thing – I think because the whole process is more concentrated and you cycle through the good parts of writing so much faster.
– There is that moment very very early on – well, really, what I mean is the BEGINNING – when you realize you do have a story – when you somehow get a picture of the whole thing in your head – not clear or in every detail, but you see a shape – characters, setting, a story arc, that you know is going to work (and that miraculously, you don’t seem to forget once you’ve had the vision).
– There is that moment when you have to write an opening sentence and you just do, and it’s perfect, far beyond any sentence you could have written if you’d actually put any thought into it.
– There is that moment when totally unexpectedly your main character speaks and you think – “Wow – who’s THAT??, because it sure as hell isn’t me” – and while you’re marveling at it she basically shoves you out of the way and takes over the story and you realize this thing is going to get done because she’s going to do it for you.
– There is that moment when a theme jumps out and provides a connecting thread that gives your story more depth than you had ever planned (and sometimes more depth than you even think you’re capable of)
– There are those moments of just purely enjoying the musicality of a sentence or the impact of an image.
– There is that moment that you think that you really could do something great here if only you had about a year to do the research required – and then just for the hell of it go look to see if you have a book on the subject in your bookcase or even just Google it and lo and behold, the precise fact you need to incorporate is on the first page you flip or click to.
– There is that moment that you write something – a character or a scene – that so startles you that you think you’re going to have to cut it because people will hate you for writing it – and then realize that if you have the balls to just be true about it, it will be the thing that makes the story.
And the truly great thing about writing a short story is that you do FINISH so much faster, so you get to the good part so much faster – which is being able to read your own work and realize what you were trying to say, even though you had no idea when you started.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that after so many years of often hating writing, it was nice to spend a few weeks feeling the love.
So what about you all? How are you feeling about writing these days? Love, hate… enough moments of the good stuff to keep you going?
Beautifully said, Alex. Absolutely beautifully said.
Right now, I’m on the verge of finishing book 2 and just a couple of months away from the debut of book 1, and it’s all so scary and satisfying, but I think the thing that sustains me is watching the dream unfold. Not the dream of publishing, though that’s really great, but the dream of writing, of having this quixotic mist form and start moving and a world appears and someone else can hold it, read it, experience it, and I’m not just a crazy person with all of these people rattling around in my head. (Well, maybe I’m that, too, but I’ve got a good disguise for it.)
“And the truly great thing about writing a short story is that you do FINISH so much faster, so you get to the good part so much faster…”
There’s danger in that too. The satisfaction of a short story is relatively immediate. You can get hooked on it—that jolt of inspiration—making a novel that much harder to complete.
Great post – I loved reading the great moments and agree with every single one of them.
Not feeling the love so much right now, as I’m not actively writing anything, but finishing a read-through of the novel I’m re-querying.
By this time next week I should be back to working on my current book-in-progress, and hopefully in the full throes of feeling the love in those great moments you described so well!
Talk about beautifully said, Toni! That particular dream made reality is absolute fulfillment for me in a way that screenwriting hever was. Intoxicating.
Mike, you’re too right about the danger of getting addicted to the istant gratification of short stories. It’s been harder to get back into my novel because I’ve been working on something so satisfying.
Today I’m at the Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego (along with Rob Gretory Browne, because you know, we’re twins) and just got drafted to lead an impromtu workshop on blogging. So if y’all feel your ears burning starting around 10:30… 😉
I fall into the Dorothy Parker camp, Alex. I love “having written.”
As to living your dream, yes, I get that one, too. And then have to remind myself to watch out what you wish for.
Alex, I love your approach to this venture. If we weren’t experiencing it fully, the good, the bad, and the ugly, we’d never be able to generate such stories.
I agree with Mike. The shorts addiction can be dangerous. I went on such a tear this year, writing flash and submitting shorts. It was such a ball.
But none of those were required, like yours. The first time I had to sit down and write one because someone else wanted it… that’s when I went back to the novels.
Nice comments, Toni. Beautifully said.
I think MacLean makes a great point. It can become a drug. That happened with me and TV. I was on a sweet little path to features, and thought I’d do a couple of quick TV things to pass the time, line the pockets…
Cut to nine years later, and all I’ve done is TV. Made a decent living, and not complaining, but I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the fact that I could write something, and six weeks later it’s being filmed, and four weeks after that it’s on the air.
All that said, another great post here by our resident Dylan Thomas, you know, without the booze and shit.
For me, I never hate writing. I love it even when it’s hard and a pain, and I think I completely suck and don’t deserve to be paid. Even then I love it.
I have no other skills. If I wasn’t writing, I’d be wearing a blue vest at Wal-Mart. But I am writing. I’ve wanted to write (and have written) since I was in the fifth grade.
Writing is my drug. I honestly believe that writing has kept me from going down some very dark holes when I toyed with substances other than sugar and caffeine. Writing saved me from some poor vocational choices, like when I tried pimping in Hollywood, etc.
Writing, while incredibly emotional and depressing at times, has kept me from being truly depressed. Or rather, it’s been writing that has pulled me from depression. Or rather still, I’m at my most depressed when I’m not writing. I’m also at my most surly.
Since we’ve been talking about the King book, I’ll quote one of my favorite passages:
Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be fillled up.
Writing – for me- is the magic part, the exhilarating part – of this crazy and often insane business. But that’s where it stops. It’s the rest of the demands – and Louise said it – be careful what you wish for…
Once, when my mother was in the hospital, I insensitively spoke about death.
“It’s the one true friend, the one constant companion, all of us have.” I’d been thinking about how to reframe the human experience, my frustration with mortality, ya know?
Writing is like that for me. A sometimes dreaded, sometimes joyous friend without whom I’d be lost — ill-defined, a horror to be near.
I struggle more than flow with this addiction, but, like Guyot, it’s what I know. I’ve been doing it all of my life. I’ve used it to keep sane, to make money, to manipulate the media (PR work), to influence, to tell stories, to fulfill personal missions, to realize dreams and embrace new ones — but most of all, I’ve used it to understand this strange, marvelous world.
Everyone is being so poetic, today!
Writing is definitely a drug… but Pari hit it even closer to the mark, for me. I think writing is how I THINK. I don’t really know what I think or feel or know until I’ve written it.
Boy, how I feel about writing… I should just get L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E tattooed across my knuckles like Robert Mitchum, only with the letters facing me so I can read them while I’m typing.
I think you nailed it with the Dorothy Parker quote, Alex. Which brings me to another quote of hers that I adore:
“The two most beautiful words in the english language are ‘check enclosed.'”
The words “having written” are pretty beautiful too, though.
Hah, Cornelia – I LOVE that movie (and fear it…)
“Check enclosed” is pretty great, too.
Love is a path to the heart that knows its own way.