Suffering for your art

Calling all moany writers (and there are a lot of them about — or at least, there are a lot of them who create blogs on which to moan). The eagle-eyed and legendary Dave Lull has sent me a link to a characteristically witty article by Garrison Keillor: "Writers, quit whining". Dave sent me this link a while ago, and several people have since picked up on it and posted links to it on their blogs. However, I did enjoy reading it so thought I would draw attention to it now, with apologies to anyone who has already read the article. (I often read posts a week, two weeks, a month or more after reading an almost identical post elsewhere, but we bloggers are strong on analysis, right?).

To return to GK’s article, he compares writing with the sheer monotony of other jobs, teaching for example: "Try teaching eighth-grade English, five classes a day, 35 kids in a class, from September to June, and then tell us about suffering." He goes on to say that the writers who complain most are the drunks, and the people who win awards for writing "stuff that’s painful to read", and that the truth is that writing is no more difficult than anything else — like building a house, or doing any other mundane activity becuase you have to earn a crust; year in, year out.

People have good lives: they grow up, have a few laughs, get married (or otherwise settle down), have children, sample a few of the pleasures of life when you can — eventually, the children grow up, you pay off the mortgage, and you have time — people treat you with respect and listen to what you say just because you are old. "Illness is, of course, to be avoided, and also megamalls and meetings involving vice presidents. But writing is not painful, no more so than a round of golf. Nobody was harmed in the course of writing this column. That is all I have to say at this time. Thank you."

What I have noted about writing is that lots of people want to do it. Almost everyone I have ever interviewed for a job in my industry (publishing), and I have interviewed very, very, very many, wants to be a writer. Few get to make a living at it. The rest have to compromise in taking a non-writing job and write in their "spare" time (or not at all). Or they remain unemployed, either writing or not, and either getting paid for it or (usually) not. I’ve seen some people make it, spectacularly in some cases, and others not. Some are happy in whatever alternative falls their way, some aren’t.

What’s my point here? I think I am saying that you just have to do what you can do. When you get to a certain age you have to decide stuff, like whether to have children or somewhere decent to live. Sometimes life throws nasty things at you and you have to cope. The purity of youthful ambition gets diluted. Keillor is saying, don’t moan on about it. Live your life, get what you can out of it (and there is a lot). If you are lucky enough to live beyond the mortgage/child years, you acquire freedom (time and money) and experience, so plenty to write about (if you still have the energy), if that’s your inclination. Oh yes, and in the meantime, get a blog — but try not to moan too much about the writing process on it 😉

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