As everyone in the reading world probably knows at this point, Philip Roth is retiring from writing. When he made this announcement, I wondered if it was like the Rolling Stones saying, “No, guys, seriously, last tour.” It’s hard for artists to pull away from their craft, even if they’re getting tired. But it sounds like Roth is done with the work of writing. He recently told a young writer: “But I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”
Fortunately, Elizabeth Gilbert also takes major issue with this advice and can craft a way better argument than my gif. (Scratch that, gifs are the best argument.) She argues that while writing is difficult and it requires real work, it’s also one of the best freaking jobs you can have:
“Compared to almost every other occupation on earth, it’s f*cking great. I say this as somebody who spent years earning exactly zero dollars for my writing (while waiting tables, like Mr. Tepper) and who now makes many dollars at it. But zero dollars or many dollars, I can honestly say it’s the best life there is, because you get to live within the realm of your own mind, and that is a profoundly rare human privilege.”
As someone who does not make many dollars at writing, I can still say that even when it’s hard, it’s great work. It’s fulfilling even when it just amounts to a Word document on my computer that will never be seen by human eyes. Maybe some people don’t realize what kind of effort and time are involved in writing and probably shouldn’t get into the business. But if you love the act of creation and letting your mind make connections and maybe seeing readers make those connections, then write.
Make sure to read the whole article, because I think we need more writers who give validation to all that a writing career can be.
(H/T Jennifer Malone)
5 thoughts on “The Work of Writing, the Joy of Writing”
I’m with you and Ms. Gilbert on this one. The thought of not writing any more blows my mind; the idea of no longer wanting to write seems absolutely unfathomable to me. Ah, well. I guess it’s not for everyone…
“Just torture”? Funny, that’s how I’d describe not writing.
Seriously! I wouldn’t argue that writing is always fun or easy–it’s certainly work–but it’s not “torture.”
YES! I would burst and ooze horribly if I was denied, just for a day, the ability to make up my little stories. Since when was difficult a bad thing anyway. ^_^
I think if you believe that writing is your God-given talent, it’s quite possible to believe that the day will come when you’ve written all God has intended for you to write. Or, if you believe in reincarnation or karma, you can think of it in terms of working out (through writing) whatever issues you need to work out. Then, boom, just like that, you may find yourself done and ready to move on to something else.