To answer Jason Boog’s query over whether writers hate to write or love to write or what not, here is my answer on the subject:
I love to write. I love having written. I hate to write when my brain doesn’t work and when I end up writing drivel or I fail to challenge myself. But this is not endemic to the writing itself, but a rather ruthless castigatory impulse directed towards self. I don’t hate having written. I am a goal-oriented monkey and I can sometimes convince friends to throw bits of banana into my mouth; from this vantage point alone, I suppose I must love writing, even though writing is nowhere nearly as easy as it looks and there is that synaptic problem of mediocre prose sprouting forth like fungi on a white screen. There is clearly some sadistic part of me that likes to kill the fungi, slashing at it with blue pen or selecting text and nuking the site from orbit with one mighty push of the DELETE button. But when I write and there is nothing but fungi, I don’t necessarily hate the writing. Write better you bastard! Thoughts along those lines. I do sometimes hate the fact that fungi is all I’m good for, thus causing me to question whether there is a capable mind inside my thick skull (partial answer: there is, I suppose, but why dwell on it and become a smug megalomaniac when there’s a fascinating world of exciting people to contemplate!). Thus, how one answers this question of being a writer says a lot about the writer himself. Writing is work. It is sometimes difficult, sometimes easy, but it is not a painful process. Compare writing to working in an office or a maquiladora. Get some perspective, for Christ’s sake. Trying to figure out how to pay the rent is a painful process, but how one decides to do it or the degree of difficulty that one places in paying the rent is a matter of choice, depending upon how one’s interests run against the system that runs our world. But spare me this nonsense over whether you love or you hate writing and simply write and write the best prose you can with love and life attached to it.
Writers who don’t love writing are easy to spot. As for John August, it would seem to me that he does not love writing and that he has not loved writing ever since his fantastic screenplay, Go.
“It is sometimes difficult, sometimes easy, but it is not a painful process. Compare writing to working in an office or a maquiladora. Get some perspective, for Christ’s sake.”
I think that’s a bit disingenuous. I hate to write, but love having written … and I’m not alone. Because it’s on my desk, I’ll just cite the interviewees in The New New Journalism, many of whom discuss the torture writing entails. Some of them love to write, for others (Susan Orlean, William Langewiesche, &c.) hate to write, but I don’t think that’s “easy to spot.” John McPhee — not in that collection, but I’m thinking literary journalism now — hates to write and is never satisfied with what he’s written. Gay Talese is another. All of which is only to say:
It’s not whether you love or hate to write that’s important: it’s whether you love or hate being a writer.
“Writing is work.” Yes. End of story.
The whole reason I picked up on that post in the first place is because I am knee deep in the “having written” stage of work right now (revising and smoothing out already structured stuff), and it just feels so refreshing after a couple years of chopping through fungi to get here. I wanted to shout “Amen!” when I heard somebody praising the joys of having written. At the same time, nothing beats scribbling a fresh, unedited 2,000 word piece on a Sunday afternoon.
You’re right. We should spare the nonsense and get back to writing.
I am unfortunately of the Hemingway school—I sit and sit and write and write and maybe a good little bit will come out. After a number of days, weeks or months I have a story / essay / poem. And I hate it. And I love it. Mostly love it. It sure as hell is work, and it is good work. Milton made work a central aspect of Eden in Paradise lost. Work is good for a person, especially if it is work you love.
Of course it’s work. And time-consuming. The only time writing feels effortless to me is when I discover pages I’ve written and subsequently forgot about. If they’re pretty good pages that seemed to come out of nowhere, then I’ll float on my writer high for the rest of the week.
Hi. Just discovered your blog while looking for Prokosch as am about to start reading The Asiatics. Was pleasantly surprised that you also love Durrell, Gore Vidal, Chesterton and several others. Also on your recommendation I think I will put Stegner’s Spectator Bird to the back of my reading list. Anyway I thought I’d send you some British authors you may not have heard of (they’re hard enough to find in Britain) but which I hope you would love as much as me:
J L Carr. An English eccentric and teacher he wrote eight novels and published them himself meaning you’ll probably have to trawl the internet to find them. It’s worth it though. Those eight books are the work of an undiscovered Thomas Hardy, probably the finest writer in English of the second half of the twentieth century. His characters wander in and out of the books, turning up in each others stories, creating a fully envisioned world with wonderful characters. A Month in the Country is his masterpiece and is relatively common, the others not so.
Bruce Chatwin, Another English eccentric, bisexual traveller who only managed six books, His most famous being In Patagonia.
Sir Herbert Read, An English scientist who only wrote one fiction. The Green Child, which nonetheless stands as a masterpiece in philosophical fiction.
Also not British but worth reading and I couldn’t find them in your blog so you may well have already discovered them but:
Machado De Assis, the foremost Brazillian Writer, Alejo Carpentier the brilliant Cuban writer
These are some of my favourite novelists, hope there’s some new discoveries in there for you.
So after all this I have learnt that: some people love writing; some people hate writing; talking about loving and hating is dizzying
In my opinion, the late great Peter De Vries said it best: “I love being a writer. It’s the paperwork I can’t stand.”
It is so very nice to know that I am not alone in hating the process but loving the outcome. What I really love is how it all rolls around in my head, making a beautiful story. What I really hate is how it comes out in script looking like a jumbled mess of randomness….but the times when it comes out right…it’s addictive!