Friday, June 08, 2007

The Grind of Writing

A number of bloggers are dissing this article, “My Book Deal Ruined my Life,” about the nitty gritty of writing books. They’ve lampooned the woe-is-me-cloistered-for years-behind-a-desk-to-grind-out-80,000-words attitude. Why does anyone who actually scores a book deal get to complain? they ask.

Well, I found a lot to like in this article, particularly about the repetitiveness of working on a book. I’ve been researching and writing my book, for, say seven years now, give or take a few years And while I am still excited about it, some days I feel just like this guy:

“I want this woman out of my life so much it’s ridiculous,” said Michael Anderson, 55, who has been researching and writing a book about the playwright Lorraine Hansberry for HarperCollins since 1998. “It has been, in essence, 10 years, and sometimes it seems like, ‘My God, why isn’t this thing done yet?’ But at times I think, ‘My God, it’s only been 10 years.’ I never understood why biographies took so much time; now I’m in awe that any of them get finished.”

When he received his contract, Mr. Anderson was working full-time as an editor at The New York Times Book Review, a job he had for 17 years. He figured he would try to take four years to finish the book and publish it by his 50th birthday. “But that was just naïve,” Mr. Anderson said.

He left The New York Times in 2005, sequestering himself in his Washington Heights apartment to devote himself to the book.

For months, each night, he would be startled from his slumber at 3:30 in the morning in the midst of a thought about Hansberry. “She’s a nice woman, but I don’t want to be with her all the time,” Mr Anderson said.”

And then there is the self-loathing aspect of writing. You don’t need a book deal to experience this:

“You’re not letting people read it as you write it. Nobody has ever read what you’re doing. It could be terrible. It could be brilliant. And you start to think, ‘Oh God, this is a complete piece of shit that couldn’t be published—nobody is going to read it.’ But then you have a sandwich and go, ‘I am a genius and I’m going to win the Booker Prize.’”


bhadd said...

Repetition is very annoying when writers are, writers are repetitive. Work is good when we whine over it however.

The Hood Company

Daniel Olivas said...

Though I see your point, Frances, the piece just hit me the wrong way. So many jobs are difficult, painful, lonely, stressful, etc. Everyday when I drive to my day job as a government lawyer, I see groups of day workers on the street corner hoping to be picked up. When a truck stops, they scramble to the driver to make a desperate pitch. A person who is trying to create literature will not be immune from what other working folks suffer; however, a person creates art because he/she must regardless of the consquences. I just finished reviewing "The Diary of Petr Ginz" for The Jewish Journal; here was a teenager who wrote diary entries, poetry, novels, and essays not to mention creating linocuts, sketches and paintings, while in a ghetto and then a concentration camp. He died in a Nazi gas chamber at the age of sixteen. My goodness! Maybe I'm sounding like a grump, but if a person just can't stomach the difficulties of being a writer, then maybe he/she should move on and focus on a "regular" job. Okay, my mini-rant is over.

Frances said...

You are right, Daniel. While writers can whine, they are in a privileged position. That's what grated against everyone. I just related to those two pieces I excerpted: the length of time a work can take and one's feeling of self worth. I will have to read your review; it sounds interesting.

Daniel Olivas said...

Don't get me wrong: I'm perfectly capable of feeling sorry for myself (when I get the flu, oy!) but not about writing because, as you note, we as writers are in a privileged position. Anyway, here is the link to my review of the Ginz diary:

Anonymous said...

I think there's nothing wrong with each profession complaining about specific problems with their chosen jobs. Just because there are bad parts to a job doesn't mean you're not grateful to have it.

I think maybe this is a good article for other writers to read and a bad article for anyone who forgets writing is a job, too.