The latest edition of The New York Observer contains a purposefully melodramatic headline: My Book Deal Ruined My Life.
OK. Did you just roll your eyes when you read that? How much sympathy do you have for anyone who manages to wrangle a book deal and live off a big fat advance? Did you rub your thumb and forefinger together to make one of those tiny violins?
Read on, my envious friend. These authors were not ruined by their book deals, but they were tormented, gained weight, had panic attacks, and alienated their friends.
Writing is a special kind of torture, as author Leah McLaren attests: “You’re not letting people read it as you write it. Nobody has ever read what you’re doing. It could be terrible. It could be brilliant. And you start to think, ‘Oh, God, this is a complete piece of shit that couldn’t be published—nobody is going to read it.’ But then you have a sandwich and go, ‘I am a genius and I’m going to win the Booker Prize.'”
Just writing this blog makes me angsty, let alone trying to tackle any number of short stories I have yet to finish. On good days, I’m able to tone down the little Nazi in my head who is questioning every word, all that syntax. I can balance the criticism with comforting thoughts like, “I’m just experimenting” and “No one ever has to read this when it’s finished”—and on really good days, “I am a genius and I’m going to win the Booker Prize.”
On my worst days, that jackbooted goose-stepper stomps across my corpus callosum: Are you sure that’s the right word to use? Why don’t you know more words? Go read the entire dictionary and come up with a better word. Achtung!
I go for a walk or take a nap or berate myself bitterly and watch TV for the next five hours.
I know few writers, in fact, who don’t mentally torture themselves in some way, even though writing is the thing they love most in life. One friend of mine holes herself up in a budget motel to finish her novels. She can’t bear to be around people.
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to write. I remember taking a book of poems out of the built-in bookshelf on the left side of the fireplace, opening it up on the floor, getting a piece of gigantic kindergarten writing paper, and copying poem after poem as if I were writing my own book. Sure, it was plagiarism, but at least I was motivated.
And now, some 40 years later, I’m at least working in the literary world, even if it is a tiny corner of the literary world and I push other people’s stories and poems through the publishing process.
But I started writing a blog. And it’s Day 5 of said blog and I haven’t quit yet, despite the Nazi telling me just how stupid that Stupid Kid Tricks post was. Tomorrow, Day 6. Yay, me.