Reality Check: On the Challenges of Being a Writer Now

Memoirist Dani Shapiro, in a recent LA times article, "A Writing Career Becomes Harder to Scale," beat me to the punch and delivered the topic I had planned to explore in my post this week. I'll let you all read the article, but will echo this much: there is indeed a very tight window, these days, that many of us, all at the same time, are trying to squeeze through, and it takes more determination to be a writer in 2010 than it did when I published my first novel in 1997. That said, Ted Solotaroff, who founded the New American Review and whom Shapiro uses as a touchstone, shares words that still hold true:

"Writing itself, if not misunderstood and abused, becomes a way of empowering the writing self. It converts anger and disappointment into deliberate and durable aggression, the writer's main source of energy. It converts sorrow and self-pity into empathy, the writer's main means of relating to otherness. Similarly, [the writer's] wounded innocence turns into irony . . . silliness into wit . . . guilt into judgment . . . oddness into originality . . . perverseness into his stinger."

Or, as Shapiro reminds us: "Every single piece of writing I have ever completed -- whether a novel, a memoir, an essay, short story or review -- has begun as a wrestling match between hopelessness and something else, some other quality that all writers, if they are to keep going, must possess."

Must.

Must.


--MD

Comments

Great post, Mylene. Anger, if used property, can make for some pretty potent fuel. Unless you allow it to burn you out instead of burning through your fingers.
I so needed to hear this today. The thing is, lately I've been wondering if I should even THINK about publication--it seems like thinking about it just gets me down, while the actual writing empowers me. But at what point do you lift up your head from the page and say enough is enough--let me put myself out there?

Sigh. I feel like I still have so much to learn.
Mylène said…
What a great question, Kathryn. How does "thinking about publication" alter our process as writers? Is there some way (realistically) that we can think of and position ourselves as artists on a journey who, yes, plan to be published and who take that goal and its requirements very seriously, yet who fling words onto paper because, first and foremost, it makes us feel awake and alive? Would that make the work better? Or would it tend to make it more self-indulgent, less attuned to the needs of real readers and markets? And in any case, is it really even possible to privilege process above all else, if you are truly "serious" about writing--or is that like saying you're skating in the Olympics just 'cause you like being around all that purdy purdy ice?

And yet, I have to say, I've been adopting the "posture" (in the best sense of that word, in the yoga-sense) of one who creates first and foremost for the joy of creation more and more in recent years. Not by plan, but by instinct. "American Stories NOW" grew out of that impulse toward joy--and the creativity workshops I now run. I find the creative act just feels so intense, marvelous, exciting, enlivening, unusual--even at its most challenging--that it's precious in and of itself. I find a different "savor" in my work, in all its forms, when I celebrate it not without reference to, say, a publishing conglomerate, but NOT as a mere footnote to it, either. I don't know, Kathryn, maybe it's easier for me to take this "posture" because I've already got novels published and out there. And I will certainly and avidly continue to pursue publication, as I always have done. But I can tell you this frolicksome way of being a writer in the world makes me much happier than I was in my younger days. What a wonder it is that, as writers, we are made and bent in this particular fashion-- and how careful we must be that we don't let anything turn our way of moving through the world into a stoop, a hunch, some burden we don't want to face.
The thing is I'm not sure I've ever felt JOY when I'm writing. Writing is so very intense for me, a bit like coming face to face with God. When I go to church, I often weep in God's presence, and it is the same for me when I write. Perhaps it's because so much of my writing deals with the darker side of humanity. I don't know. I have often felt playful when writing, I have many times made myself laugh, but most often, what I feel is a power rushing through me, a power that will burn me inside out if I don't allow it to escape through the tips of my fingers. So I write. I write to save my life, but not to indulge it.
Mylène said…
Power. Love that you wrote that.

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