The hell of not writing

Monday, July 19, 2010

Novelist Susanna Daniel has a provocative essay at Slate about why it took her 10 years to finish her book, and how she almost gave up writing:

I think I can speak for pretty much anyone who publishes a novel after 10 years: Whether you win awards doesn't matter one bit. The hardest—and therefore the most rewarding—part was just finishing.

Writing is hard—writers say this all the time, and I think probably only other writers believe it. But it's not nearly as hard, in my experience, as not writing.

Actually, I think the hardest part about writing is that, conceivably, you could be doing it at any given time. It doesn't require special equipment or office space; you don't need access to a particular corporate server or secure files; you don't need to work with certain people. It's just you and a computer or pen and paper, and you don't even need that. You can do a lot of writing in your head. So the special hell of a frustrated writer is that every distraction, every hour at the day job, every familial obligation feels like it's taking you away from your work. That's a terrible way to go about it, sure. You ought to be able to carve out time around those other obligations to work, but something about writing (or not writing, rather) is especially guilt-inducing.

I hate to admit it, but the part of this article that rings most true is where Daniel talks about giving up writing altogether. There are times when it feels like that would be the best thing to do, just let it all go and be happy with consuming culture instead of trying to create it. I haven't gotten to that point yet, but I can see the appeal.