Does Writing Make you Miserable?
According to some of our greatest writers, past and present, it does. In fact it makes you so miserable, only a masochist would take it on.
George Orwell, in his essay Why I Write lays on the agony with a trowel.
Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon who one can neither resist nor understand.
More recently in her book On Writing, A.L.Kennedy says much the same thing with:
- don't even think about doing what I do for a living unless you are prepared to put up with money worries, back pain, labyrinthitis, loneliness, dislocation and a bad diet, furtively ingested in "brown" hotel rooms.
Clearly A.L has never stayed at the Premier Inn where the décor tends towards beige and lavender.
I know what she means about the bad diet though. I remember once (before I could afford the luxury of the Premier Inn) sitting hunched on an iron hard hotel bed prior to giving a reading, "furtively ingesting" a cold pasta in a pot thingy in case I fainted away mid-speech. I came to regret that pasta-pot later. I'll spare you the details. But at least the walls weren't brown, more a kind of dingy magnolia.
So why do any of us put up with this self-inflicted torture? Fact is, writing is only misery, when it isn't going well. When it flows the world might crumble around you. Saucepans burn, dog's sick on the Turkish rug, anything short of an asteroid hit and you won't even blink. If on the other hand your brain turns to sludge and your characters are like dead men walking, an hour or two scrubbing mouldy grout from the shower tiles can seem almost attractive.
Brenda Ueland, a well-known writing guru of the 1930s, reckoned the only way out of this state was to walk.
For me a five or six mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day. I have done this for many years. It is at these times I seem to get re-charged. If I do not walk one day, I seem to have on the next what Van Gogh calls 'the meagreness.' (Depression.) After a day or two of not walking, when I try to write I feel a little dull and irresolute.
And that just refers to the actual writing. Perhaps the next blog should be 'Does trying to get published make you even more miserable'? Time to dig out the dog lead, I'm off for a walk.