In my previous blog, I tried my best to discourage you as a writer. If I succeeded, you’re probably not reading this. You’ve probably taken up skydiving or alligator wrestling–something far safer than writing.
But if you are still with me, let’s start the year off right with some encouragement for writers. As I did last time, I’ll call on some famous writers of the past to help us out. We’ll start with perhaps the noblest observation about writing I could find. William Faulkner said, “It is the writer’s privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and price and compassion and pity and sacrifice which has been the glory of his past.”
Alas, most writers had a different take on writing, usually more metaphysical. One that rings true to me is the desire to live through the lives of characters on the page. The great novelist Anne Tyler has said, “I write because I want more than one life. I insist on a wider selection.” Sherwood Anderson (one of my favorite writers) concurs. “I think the whole glory of writing lies in the fact that it forces us out of ourselves and into the lives of others.” Of course, there’s always the other side of the story as playwright Henrik Ibsen noted: “It’s just as well that it came to an end. The endless cohabitation with these imaginary people had begun to make me not a little nervous.” Being a fiction writer is, after all, a little like getting paid for being schizophrenic.
Other writers have a slightly different take on it. I love Maya Angelou’s observation: “In all my work what I try to say is that as human beings we are more alike than we are unalike.” Nadine Gordimer is on the same track when she says, “Writing is making sense of life.” I think most good writers write in order to find out what they themselves believe about life, God, and the great issues of life. In that way, writing—whether fiction or non-fiction—is like an adventure in self-discovery.
Why do you write what you write? Is it to make money? To change lives? To discover who you are? All answers are valid, but probably the best answer is that, despite the drawbacks, the discouragements, and the rejections, you write because you really must. To not write isn’t an option. Encouragement is fine, we all need that. But encouragement from others can only take us so far. Writing is by its nature a solitary profession. (Except for your fictional friends who try to take you to task over the next plot point you’d planned).
One thing I discovered in doing these back-to-back blogs about the miseries and the joys of writing is that I found far more quotes from writers who found writing to be either hard or even torturous. That really didn’t surprise me. In the end, I suppose Gustave Flaubert summed it up with “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living.”
On a much lighter note, as for me, I’m with H.L. Mencken who observed, “I write to attain that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved, which a cow enjoys on giving milk.” Not a very glamorous explanation, but if you’ve had that feeling, you know it’s true. Crude, but true.