Saturday, January 22, 2011


Writing is hard work. Many of us picture a writer as someone happily sitting at the keyboard in his studio in a New England country home dashing off page after page of perfect prose. I suppose it is that way for a handful of acclaimed novelists, but for everyone else it is moments of inspiration connected by hours of drudgery.

Until I became a writer myself, I had no idea just how hard it is. Thousands upon thousands of hours go into writing a novel. Endless writing and rewriting. Sometimes it is necessary to discard huge volumes of completed work because it isn’t working well, or doesn’t fit into the larger picture. Sometimes a project seems so overwhelming that only the most disciplined, dedicated, or hungry writers keep slogging away at it.

Writing is also very personal. Writing can not be done in a vacuum. All of the best stories you have read were based on the writer’s own life – his or her experiences, feelings, personality – as well as the people in the writer’s life. Sometimes this is obvious; sometimes it is subtle. They may be creating fictional characters but those characters are based on bits and pieces of real people.

Jennifer Bell, the author of Going Down, told her students that if you are not ready to offend the people you know, if you are not ready to lose some of your friends, you are not ready to write. The needs of the story have priority over how people will feel about the way you have portrayed them.

But even more than how your friend’s play into the work, the writer’s own psyche is exposed for all to see. When we put our words out there for others to read, whether it be in a published work, or during a critique in a workshop, it is not just our writing that is set up like a giant target to be torn to shreds; it is our very souls that are on display.

There have been times that I had to fight to keep from shaking while my work was discussed. I’m not the only writing student who has felt that. I have seen some students burst into tears – not because of anything that was said about their words, but because they had written about things that opened old wounds, things that dredged up deep emotions from their past. Now these things were layed out for all the world to witness.

I suspect that the best writers are those that can keep going, wounded and terrified, filled with doubt, to somehow finish their work. Anything less would result in a compromised story, one not worth reading.

1 comment:

  1. This is very true. One thing to do to help shield yourself against being knocked down or stymied by possible criticism is to have a retort or two ready. Many people who know a writer will read something he or she wrote and say, "That isn't true! You changed what happened!" or, they will read something and say, "This isn't really fiction, you're using some things from your life." I don't know why, but these ppl do that. So have a reply ready, if you're not going to just ignore them or walk off - "Fiction draws from life" or "Yes, I am fictionalizing certain events from my life." But sometimes it's just best to roll your eyes and walk off from them!