Tortured Authors—The pain of writing

tortured-authors5Do you have any idea how LUCKY we are that some people take on the burden of writing a novel? They're the ones willing to stare at a blank screen—then fill it with WORDS. And MORE words. Enough words for the likes of you and me to spend hours reading them.

Philip Roth made the news a year or so ago. He was in a New York cafe when the young barrista approached saying that he, too, hoped to write a lot of really good words one day.

Roth's response...in so many words: DON'T DO IT! Writing words is HELL! It will ruin your life!


I recently attended
a panel discussion at Hachette book publishers in which the moderator opened with the Philip Roth incident. "Do you agree with Roth?" she asked the three author-panelists. "Is writing a brutal process?"

Joshua Ferris was one of the panelists,* and he writes excellent words. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, his third novel, was nominated for the 2014 Man Booker Prize; his second, Then We Came to the End, won the 2008 PEN/Hemingway Award.

Ferris talked about the difficulty of starting a novel: making the tough decisions about who tells the story and how it should be structured. He talked about finally settling down to write the first 100 pages of To Rise Again. And then ...

And then ... he realized it DIDN'T WORK, none of it. So he tossed all 100 pages. The pain of that, he said, was "excruciating." It wasn't just the words, he noted, or even the effort. It was the time, all that time subtracted from his life, time that came to nothing.

So why DO it? What makes authors like Ferris write a second...and a third book? Or in Philip Roth's case 40? We can't know, of course, but I suspect it's a need to to create a separate reality, to articulate a world view, or simply to tell a good story.

Whatever it is, our world is a better place because of that mystifying compulsion. Authors grapple with words, and we're the beneficiaries. So how lucky is that?

For book clubs:
Have any members ever written or tried to write fiction—either a novel or short story. Or perhaps tackled a memoir...or written poetry? How difficult is writing?




* The other fiction panelists were Jean Hanff Korelitz (You Should Have Known, 2014) and Edan Lepucki (California, 2014). There was also a nonfiction panel, which included Maureen Corrigan (So We Read On, 2014), Barbara Ehrenriech (Living with a Wild God, 2014), and Sam Kean (The Tale of the Dueling Neursurgeons, 2014).

 

Comments  

0 #1 brock car 2014-12-15 21:08
You hit the nail squarely on the head. I wrote Dead Behind The Eyes because I had some things I wanted to say. Having written numerous non-fiction pieces I concluded truth is better told through fiction.

I marvel when an author says writing fiction is the best job in the world. I'm with Roth. It is excruciating and can feel like such a waste of so many days. Yet some unidentified source drives you.
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