I love you. You are my people. But please, please – stop whining about writing.
I recently read the introduction to a book that started with the author going on for eight pages about how hard it is to write a book. At the end of it, I felt like telling her – good God, don’t write a book then! Go knit a sweater or paint something or join a soccer team! Do something that makes you happy! Why do I want to participate in something that you call a misery?
But this seems to be a trend with writers.
“Writing is hard work and bad for the health.”
– E.B. White
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than other people.”
– Thomas Mann
“There is nothing to writing. All you do it sit at a typewriter and bleed.”
– Ernest Hemingway
I don’t mean to be calling bullshit on Hemingway, but let’s face it – no one complains like writers. No one can translate suffering into such beautiful prose.
But I have a problem with it. It perpetuates the myth of artists as fundamentally tortured and mentally unhealthy. Personally, I want the world’s artists to be okay, to stay alive and vibrant and pour their joy into their work. I don’t want to think that the book I hold in my hands nearly sent you over the edge. And I certainly don’t want my own life’s work to be the death of me.
Why don’t we see contractors or veterinarians flinging themselves to the proverbial fainting couch over their vocations? Why are there no quotes about scuba diving instructors torturing themselves for their work?
I have a theory. I think it’s because as writers we worry that we need to earn our place in the world. If we tell everyone how hard writing is, we can justify the importance of our work. We think that suffering means we are serious.
It’s time we let go of that.
There is nothing glorious in pain. Let’s stop inflicting artistic misery on the world and thinking that makes our work seem vital.
Our work is vital.
Art is vital.
You know how I know this? Because the first evidence of humans making art is forty thousand years old. The first evidence of any sort of agriculture is only ten thousand years old. This means, as a species, we thought about making beautiful, essentially purposeless things thirty thousand years before we thought about coming up with a reliable way to feed ourselves.*
Yes, writing can be hard. It is emotionally engaging in ways that can be uncomfortable. It makes you dig deep into your own stuff, finding harsh truths and accessing universal struggles. You are inventing entire worlds. But it is also among the most cushy jobs on the planet. You’re not tending to leprosy victims in a rural clinic or calling the parents of a car crash victim. You are not picking strawberries for twelve hours in the blazing sun.
The world will not have a greater appreciation for our work if they think we are dragging our souls through the mud for it. We don’t have to be martyrs to do impactful work. Scars are not badges of honor.
Everyone has a voice. How amazing is that? So, let’s use it. Proudly. Let’s enjoy the work that we chose to do. Let’s sit down to our work and pour our love and enthusiasm and passion on to the pages. Let’s ooze delight all over the keyboard. Let’s ditch the insecurity and believe that we earned the right to tell our story, just because we are alive. Let’s not contribute to the negativity of the world – the tortured writer is such a cliché. It’s boring.
And if writing is really that painful for you, if the vulnerability of creative expression really does send you to bed, paralyzed with endless writer’s block and shivering with agonizing self-doubt…maybe it’s time to close the Word document do something else.
There are plenty of other jobs available that are filled with rejection and pay next-to-nothing.
*for more on this, check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic