Friday, January 11, 2008

Writers and Angst

This is a post from the Wyrdsmiths blog, where we have been discussing whether writers need to suffer for their art:

I'm different from Kelly and Lyda. For me writing is slow and difficult, and I have a lot of self-doubt. Why am I doing this? is a question I ask a lot.

I started telling stories -- serial adventures -- before I could write. My poor kid brother had to listen to them; and we played an elaborate game with small plastic animals about a society on Mars where there were no humans, only animals. This was a story too. I think it was one I mostly told.

I know I was writing poetry in grade school and probably fiction, though I don't remember doing this. I was certainly writing both in high school. I have kept on writing both my entire life, though with breaks, often long, because I don't find writing easy and am often frustrated with my work.

I guess at this point in my life I would call myself a writer. I wasn't able to do this for many, many years.

I sometimes wonder if I was influenced by the idea of the artist as a person who suffers for his or her art. My father was an art historian, and my mother loved books. I grew up knowing about the avant garde artists and writers of the 19th and early 20th century. These were people who struggled to create a new kind of art, with little support from society at large. The most famous example is probably van Gogh, who suffered hugely and sold only one painting during his life.

My father liked artists and was the chair of a combined art history and studio art department at the University of Minnesota. So I knew artists, both local people and members of the New York school of Abstract Expressionists, who came through town from time to time.

My sense was these were people who worked hard to say something individual and new, and their struggle was not an entirely pleasant process.

So, is my sense that writing is difficult learned? Do I think artists and writers ought to suffer and question, that this is part of the process of making art?

I try not to write the same story twice, and when I master a skill and find that telling a certain kind of story is becoming comfortable, I want to push on and try something new.

I want every story to say something important, that matters to me, and say it in a new way. I never want to write simply for the sake of writing.


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