Monday, August 30, 2010
Writing for a living: a joy or a chore?
Why do you write has always been a million dolar question for each writer ?Is it for money, or fame ,or self actualisation or anything beyond all these ?This simple question will keep on haunting to the writers for the years to come.
For some, it's a serious business and for some it's a sheer fun.The important writers of our time have shared below their views and thoughts and again have put a volley of questions-why do you write after all ? For a joy , or for a chore,while writing is meant for living alone.
The joy of writing for a living is that you get to do it all the time. The misery is that you have to, whether you're in the mood or not. I wouldn't be the first writer to point out that doing something so deeply personal does become less jolly when you have to keep on at it, day after cash-generating day. To use a not ridiculous analogy: Sex = nice thing. Sex For Cash = probably less fun, perhaps morally uncomfy and psychologically unwise. Sitting alone in a room for hours while essentially talking in your head about people you made up earlier and then writing it down for no one you know does have many aspects which are not inherently fulfilling. Then again, making something out of nothing, overturning the laws of time and space, building something for strangers just because you think they might like it and hours of absence from self – that's fantastic. And then it's over, which is even better. I'm with RLStevenson – having written – that's the good bit.
Writing novels is no fun; nor is, generally speaking, reading novels. Reading people writing about novels is not always fun, either, because relatively little of this kind of writing is any good. Then there's the group of people who don't enjoy being novelists, to which I probably belong; whose lives are at once shaped and defined by, and to some extent entrapped in, the act of writing fiction. I still find it difficult to believe that I'm something called a 'novelist'; but this hasn't stopped me from dreaming, frequently, of alternative professions: second-hand bookshop owner; corporate worker; cinematographer. There are many reasons for this unease. One of them is a fundamental discomfort with narrative itself, and involves admitting to yourself that you derive your basic pleasure not from knowing what happens next, but from arrested time or eventlessness; this makes you constantly wish, as you're writing, that you were elsewhere, or it makes you work to make the novel accommodate that impulse. Another reason is the professionalisation of the vocation, so that the novelist is supposed to produce novels as naturally, automatically, and regularly as a cow gives milk. In such a constraining situation, money can certainly be a compensatory pleasure; so can that paradoxical and sly addiction, failure.
I get great pleasure from writing, but not always, or even usually. Writing a novel is largely an exercise in psychological discipline – trying to balance your project on your chin while negotiating a minefield of depression and freak-out. Beginning is daunting; being in the middle makes you feel like Sisyphus; ending sometimes comes with the disappointment that this finite collection of words is all that remains of your infinitely rich idea. Along the way, there are the pitfalls of self-disgust, boredom, disorientation and a lingering sense of inadequacy, occasionally alternating with episodes of hysterical self-congratulation as you fleetingly believe you've nailed that particular sentence and are surely destined to join the ranks of the immortals, only to be confronted the next morning with an appalling farrago of clichés that no sane human could read without vomiting. But when you're in the zone, spinning words like plates, there's a deep sense of satisfaction and, yes, enjoyment…
Civilisation's greatest single invention is the sentence. In it, we can say anything. That saying, however, is difficult and peculiarly painful. Whether we are writing a novel or a letter to our bank manager, we have the eerie sensation that we are not so much writing as being written, that language in its insidious way is using us as a medium of expression and not vice versa. The struggle of writing is fraught with a specialised form of anguish, the anguish of knowing one will never get it right, that one will always fail, and that all one can hope to do is 'fail better', as Beckett recommends. The pleasure of writing is in the preparation, not the execution, and certainly not in the thing executed. The novelist daily at his desk eats ashes, and if occasionally he encounters a diamond he is likely to break a tooth on it. Money is necessary to pay the dentist's bills.
I gain nothing but pleasure from writing fiction; short stories are foreplay, novellas are heavy petting – but novels are the full monte. Frankly, if I didn't enjoy writing novels I wouldn't do it – the world hardly needs any more and I can think of numerous more useful things someone with my skills could be engaged in. As it is, the immersion in parallel but believable worlds satisfies all my demands for vicarious experience, voyeurism and philosophic calithenics. I even enjoy the mechanics of writing, the dull timpani of the typewriter keys, the making of notes – many notes – and most seducttive of all: the buying of stationery. That the transmogrification of my beautiful thoughts into a grossly imperfect prose is always the end result doesn't faze me: all novels are only a version- there is no Platonic ideal. But I'd go further still: fiction is my way of thinking about and relating to the world; if I don't write I'm not engaged in any praxis, and lose all purchase.
Joyce Carol Oates
Given that the act of writing provokes such misery, why do you do it? – here is the writer's perennial riddle. Every writer is asked this question, or its artful variants, and every writer comes up with some plausible answer, the most arresting of which would seem to have been Flannery O'Connor's: "Because I'm good at it." It's rare that a writer – a literary writer, that is, like Colm Tóibín – will acknowledge that he writes for money, since most literary writers obviously don't write for money – a prose fiction writer's hourly wage, broken down into units, would be in the modest range of the US minimum wage of the 1950s – approximately $1 per hour.
And when Colm Tóibín began writing, he could have had no idea that he'd ever be paid, or even published; obviously, the motive for the form of artful mimicry we call prose fiction goes much deeper, and is inaccessible to interviewers.
Recall that DH Lawrence warned us to trust the tale, not the teller – the teller of fictions is likely to be a liar. Darwinian evolutionary psychology suggests that none of us really knows what has made us what we are, still less why we behave so eccentrically as we do; when we are pressed to explain ourselves, we invent. In the Renaissance, poets claimed repeatedly that they wrote for posterity – to be "immortal." In religious communities, the creation of any art was for the glory of God. In a capitalist society, one is likely to claim that one writes for the same purpose that everyone else produces a product--for money.
To me, who has written for most of her adult life, in a number of genres and with wildly varying degrees of "enjoyment" and/or "misery", it's likely that writing is a conscious variant of a deep-motivated unconscious activity, like dreaming. Why do we dream? No one seems to really know, just as no one seems to really know why we crave stories, even or especially stories we know to be fiction. My experience of writing – of writing these very sentences, for instance – is invariably a blend of the initially "inspired" and the more exacting, or plodding, execution of inspiration.
Most writers find first drafts painfully difficult, like climbing a steep stairs, the end of which isn't in sight. Only just persevere! Eventually, you will get where you are gong, or so you hope. And when you get there, you will not ask why? – the relief you feel is but a brief breathing spell, before beginning again with another inspiration, another draft, another steep climb. "I always say, my motto is 'Art for my sake'" – these words of the young DH Lawrence in a letter written before the first world war are probably as reliable as any.
When I was young, I thought that the fun part of writing would be the "creative" bit, making stuff up and inventing things. The older I've got, the less fun this has become. I dread it. The part I enjoy is the re-writing. Increasingly, I enjoy the dullest, most clerical stages of the process. Having said that, there always comes a point, after I've amassed enough material and can start knocking it into shape, when I begin looking forward to working on something. Basically it gets easier and easier each day until the last five or six months are a real pleasure and I can spend long and happy days doing it. I always hope I can carry over that momentum from the end of one book to the beginning of another but, unfortunately, it's strictly non-transferable. So I then spend a year or so doing nothing until that becomes even more intolerable than doing something.
I am not a tortured writer. Sometimes the writing does not go well and I can feel frustrated and disappointed with myself. Sometimes I do not feel like writing and sometimes I lose faith in what I'm writing. But I take a pretty robust view about all this because I tend to believe it will come good eventually. I'm not sure I would describe as pleasurable the actual process of writing, even when it's going well, but when I know in my bones that I've written a good book, like The Catastrophist or Havoc, In Its Third Year, I do certainly feel on a high. Good reviews please me, but nothing like as much as meeting readers who tell me they were moved or provoked by one of my books. To enjoy a certain level of public regard, the support of publishers and to be financially rewarded – if this is not a pleasure it's at least a rare privilege.
Writing gives me such enormous pleasure, and I'm a much happier (and therefore nicer) person when I'm doing it. There's a place in my head that I go to when I write and it's so rich and unexpected – and scary sometimes – but never ever dull. I first went there when I was seven and I wrote a poem which startled me a bit because it felt like someone else had written it. The adrenaline rush that gave me was incredible and I wanted more. These days, maybe because I can now access that place quite easily, writing feels like something I simply could not live without. It is a joyous thing. I feel very lucky to be paid to do it, but even if I'd never been published, I think I'd still be writing. I love being read, but the person I'm really always writing for is me.