Thursday, June 19, 2014

Romantic Writer Myths

The new LOCUS includes an essay by Kameron Hurley titled “Busting Down the Romantic Myth of Writing Fiction, and Mitigating Author Burnout” (as far as I can tell, it’s not posted online yet). She discusses the dangers of the “romantic writer myth” most of us have absorbed—the archetype of the solitary artist driven by passion for his or her work, inspired by a compulsion to create, probably fueled by hard drinking, heavy smoking, or pots of coffee far into the night. According to Hurley, when she transitioned from the production of marketing copy to the creation of fiction, “I expected that writing fiction would always be fun—it was my passion.” This misconception, she discovered, makes too many beginning writers decide something is wrong with them if, as it happened to her during the rewriting of her fourth novel, the process becomes “not fun. . . . pure, unadulterated grind.”

To me, the most striking line in this essay is, “The most dangerous lie we tell ourselves is that writing novels shouldn’t feel like a job.” This “lie,” according to Hurley, “encourages younger and newer writers to work for little or no pay.” It leads them to think writing should always be fun and, if it isn’t, it’s time to stop. It convinces them that suffering “burnout” is a uniquely personal problem that signifies (see above) something wrong with THEM.

We have to come to grips, as Hurley says she did, with the fact that writing novels isn’t “a magical merry-go-round of nonstop fun.” Instead, it’s often “a mix of joy and grind, incompetence and compassion.” In other words, much like other jobs. When deadlines loomed, she learned that a writer had to “come up with words even when they weren’t there.”

I found this essay enlightening and encouraging because I do tend to fear I’m the only writer in the world who doesn’t enjoy writing. I enjoy lots of things about the process, such as outlining, line editing, galley proofing, and contemplating the finished product, but not first-draft writing itself. I often wish I could be like Isaac Asimov, who refused to go on vacation without taking his work along, or like my own teenage self when I couldn’t type words on paper fast enough to keep up with my brain. I also often envy the novelists who say their characters "talk to them" or come alive and insist on going in a direction the author hasn't planned. Mine haven't done any of that since my teens. I have to mold them from scratch and make them do what I want. Knowing that other fiction writers sometimes think of the work as a “grind” reassures me that maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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