The Guardian published a story in which they asked a variety of authors if they thought that writing was a joy or a chore, in response to Colm Toibin’s recent admonition that he does not like writing despite his enormous success.
I found it quite interesting to discover how these authors feel about their craft and was pleased to see that most did not find writing to be as dispirited as Toibin.
For me, writing is about three-quarters joy and one quarter pain. In the rare instance that I am stuck somewhere in my novel, unsure of where the story is supposed to go, my entire existence becomes focused on how I should proceed. I begin to doubt if the story has any merit and wonder if I’ll ever find my way through the morass that has suddenly risen up before me. I start to think about the thousands of words that I have already written and how they all might be for naught.
I recently encountered one of these moments when I handed over the first chapter of my new book to my wife for her critique. While she didn’t dislike the beginning of my story, I knew immediately that I had missed the mark but could not figure out why. It took me more than a week to identify the problem and uncover the solution, and I am still pecking away at it, ensuring that the revision that I hand to her later today is just right.
Stephen King, in his book On Writing, describes encountering a similar circumstance when writing The Stand. He had hit a juncture in the book where the story had seemed to run itself out, even though it was not finished. He recollects the feeling of near panic, fearing that he had just lost his novel.
In these times, writing is not fun, and I begin doubting if I’m even qualified to tell these stories.
There’s also the matter of time. Being an elementary school teacher and the owner of a DJ company who is trying like hell to keep up with a one-month old baby, finding the time for writing is becoming more and more difficult, and I fear that the longer I am away from a story, the less effective I am at telling it. This search for time and concern over its loss has recently felt like an albatross hanging on my neck, causing me great consternation.
Then there are the moments of waiting that make me batty. I finish a chapter or complete a book and then sit back while waiting for people who I adore and respect to cast judgment on my work. As much as I may love a story or a character, it is the opinions of my friends, my agent, and most of all, my wife, that matter most. Waiting for them to give me the proverbial thumbs up or thumbs down on my work is an awful, endless procession of miserable impatience.
But other than these negatives, writing is a joy for me. Settling on an idea, allowing it to grow on its own, and getting to know my characters in much the same way a reader would is thrilling, rewarding, and a dream come true. I still find it remarkable that anyone would want to pay me for stuff I made up in my head but am immensely gratified and honored that they do.