Monday, February 15, 2010

Jim Shepard On Writing

I recently reread an article I had saved from a copy of O magazine. The article was by Jim Shepard and was On Writing of course. Why else would I reread it, or have saved it in the first place.

I often need a little nudging in my writing life, especially on Mondays and lately when I am not under contract with a publisher and don’t feel a particular urgency to put something on paper. But I’m a writer, I remind myself. Writers write. They produce, even if no one has asked for it. Writers can’t NOT write. I think those who can—NOT write that is—aren’t true writers. But that’s just me, and I'm nothing if not opinionated.

Jim had a lot to say about writing. I love reading the words of these prolific and amazingly more-successful-than-me-writers. I often understand just where they’re coming from, having dug myself out of the same pit more than a time or two.

Jim said: When writing is going well, it's hard, and for most of us, most of the time it's not going all that well. When students ask, "When did you know you might be a writer? How did you know?," one of the things I tell them is that they may be designed for that life if (a) they need to do it in order to feel good about themselves, even though (b) doing it almost never makes them feel good about themselves.

A hearty Amen to that. Writing is something I can’t get away from. Lately I’ve thought about getting a job outside the home. My motivations are purely economical, you understand. But a big part of me wonders if non-writers realize how easy they have it. They put in their eight to ten hours, or whatever, draw a real paycheck that is pretty close to the amount they earned last week, go home and gripe about how they are taken for granted.

What they don’t do is argue with voices in their heads, try to come up with blog topics that will prove both helpful and interesting to readers, beg interviewers to invite them on their show when they know only about 16 people are listening, line up speaking engagements, try to make their family understand they are actually writing and not just goofing off even though the kid down the street who mows grass and delivers newspapers got back a more impressive W-2, while managing to feel like they accomplished something at the end of the week.

This writing life is tough. While I might find myself out in the working world again in 2010, I will continue to strive to earn a living through writing. While writing makes me feel good about myself and like I am fulfilling the reason I was put on this earth, it also makes me feel inept, pitiful, overwhelmed, and frustrated.

I am relieved to know other writers—every writer I ever met in fact-—feels the same way. William Styron said (or wrote, I'm not sure which): I certainly don’t enjoy writing. I get a fine warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it——writing is he@@.

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