Suffering & joy in the life cycle of a novel

Salt of the world:

This is the gold I’m talking about.

According to popular myths about writers, suffering is integral to the creative process; if you are not in pain, you aren’t serious about your work.

For the most part, I find this notion annoying at best, downright troubling at worst. There’s a whole pathological strain of thought that steers people toward seeking trauma and perverse intensity in the misguided belief that it will enrich their writing. (Instead, it usually ends up wrecking their personal lives.) I believe that happy people can be good writers, even if we don’t write out of our happiness.

Still, if writing feels too easy all the time, something may be wrong. Creativity is often awkward and uncomfortable because it requires that we think otherwise than we normally do. Like doing unfamiliar exercises, that means some pain. And when we get “good” at a certain aspect of writing, it’s time to push our personal horizons outward and find new challenges.

There’s nothing wrong, however, with having a phase of blissful productivity or finding a groove. I know writers who thrive in the early, generative days of writing a novel. They exult in the infinite possibilities; they play. For me, all the possibilities are terrifying, and I live in doubt as to whether there is any there there in what I’m writing. It’s a lot of floundering and flabby prose and trying to get shit down on the page.

But when it is time to revise, I shine. This is my golden time. Unwriting words, opening new spaces, and filling them with better, brighter, fuller writing than I could ever manage the first time: that is when I am at my best. Something takes shape in the mass, and I know why I am doing what I’m doing. The suffering quotient goes way, way down, and I remember: joy is just as integral to the creative process.


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