Monday, August 2, 2010

Hard or Easy?

Here is my question for today: is writing hard or easy? Or rather, is writing SUPPOSED to be hard or easy? Two estimable books on writing offer diametrically opposed views on the topic.

In favor of hard, Annie Dillard in The Writing Life:
"It takes years to write a book - between two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant." For Annie, while writing "a favorite, difficult book. . . the very thought of writing a word or two further made me tired. How could I add a sentence, or a paragraph, every day to this work I myself could barely understand?" To do so, she survived on cigarettes and coffee, drinking it until "the top of my stomach felt bruised or burned - was this how mustard gas tasted? I drank the fourth mug without looking at it, any more than you could look at the needle in a doctor's hand." Later she "walked out on the beach unseeing and fell back in the door, sick, dead, dying." Dying from the arduous labor of being a writer.

In favor of easy, Brenda Ueland in If You Want to Write:
"I used to have to drive myself to work. You cannot imagine what an uncomfortable, effortful thing it was to be supposed to be a writer. . . . After three hours of work, I would be pithed and exhausted. I could not work in the afternoon or evening at all, because I was absolutely certain I would not be bright then. All fear and conceit." Instead, Brenda says, she learned that "you should feel while writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten- happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead after another."

Now, reading these two passages, I find myself on the side of Brenda Ueland. I love her brisk dismissal of the writer's alleged agonies as so much "fear and conceit." For me, when the writing is going best, I DO feel like that contented kindergartner.

Yet, I feel obliged to note that Annie Dillard won a Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, whereas I never heard of anything Brenda Ueland wrote except for this wonderful treasure on the art of writing itself. So maybe Annie has the evidence on her side? Still, all that "refried coffee"! And those chain-smoked cigarettes! Whereas I would rather drink my nice Swiss Miss hot chocolate, and maybe nibble at some gumdrops, and be happy while I'm writing. I have a feeling that the odds are against my becoming a Pulitzer-prize winner, anyway. So I might as well be happy while I actually DO the writing.

And today, I am.

1 comment:

  1. Oh boy! I can finally admit how annoying I found Annie Dillard in that book. I don't think writing is easy, but if Dillard feels "bruised and burned" by writing, she should be thankful she's been spared doing anything really physically hard.

    p.s. Gumdrops? Me too, Claudia! Especially the yellow ones. And it's been ages. Mmmm.