Sunday, January 20, 2008

Writing as a Job

On the writers’ forum I frequent, there is a discussion in progress on writing turning from joy into work. Is the disappearance of “inspiration,” of the spontaneous “high” that envelops a writer deeply caught up in her writing, a sign that something has gone wrong? Or is it a normal part of the writing process, particularly as querying and deadlines approach? Should a writer panic when worries about technique and output quench the joy of storytelling?

If a writer writes not as a hobby but in the hope of eventual commercial success (however she defines that), writing has to become a job. Any job, no matter how fulfilling or glamorous, has unpleasant aspects. Nurses empty bedpans; teachers deal with cranky children. Writers face writer’s block, fluctuating self-confidence, rewrites and edits and ruthless critiques. I don't think it's possible to become a better writer without the writing becoming onerous to some degree—especially since many of the difficulties stem from the writer’s own rising standards.

The euphoria a writer often feels in the early days stems either from a firm belief in the glory of her words or a complete absorption in the world of her story at the expense of the telling. Once a writer realizes that her writing can improve, that she needs to pay attention to things like word choice and syntax and pacing, the process of writing necessarily becomes more demanding, less “fun.” But, in the long run, this is a good thing, for it shows the writer is maturing. She is paying more attention to the product of her efforts than to the emotional state she reaches through writing. It's like slipping from the heady romance of courtship into the nitty-gritty of a ten-year-old marriage: though the crazy exhilaration of falling in love wanes, the couple’s love deepens as it weathers the challenges of life and strives towards common goals. A writer must sacrifice some of the emotional thrill of writing if she wants to hone her craft and advance from hobbyist to professional. If a writer embraces this change as evidence that she is progressing towards her ultimate goal—becoming the best writer she can be—the pain of the loss is easier to bear.

The satisfaction of finishing my novel and holding the completed manuscript in my hands definitely beat any of the ephemeral highs I experienced in the early days of writing. And I can easily imagine that seeing my published book on the shelf someday will quickly erase the memory of the many doubt-filled, stressful hours of butt-in-the-chair effort it took to get it there. [s]


Anonymous said...

Good post, Julianne. There was a time a while back where I began to doubt that I was cut out to be a real writer because writing had indeed started to feel like work. I've since come around to seeing things the way you do, and I think your marriage analogy is right on.

Jennifer W.

Julianne Douglas said...

Thanks, Jennifer. I'm glad you found something useful in something I said. Writing, for me, has always been hard, hard work--I can't say I've ever run to my desk, impatient for the fun to begin! [s] The initial drafting is as difficult as pulling teeth. I think that's one reason I couldn't be a chunk writer--I need the motivation of seeing the book grow incrementally and creep towards a conclusion.

(And thanks for commenting--I was beginning to feel like the clueless lecturer droning on and on as the students emptied the room. [g])