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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ask the Archives: Writers Sum Up the Joys and Lamentations of Writing

It would appear that even prolific writers of longtime standing and regard in the craft sometimes find themselves lost in their work, wondering how good it is, if it is, and why they put themselves through such grief. They seem to encounter their own unique Rodney Dangerfield moments whereby they feel they don’t get no respect, no respect at all. Yet for all their angst and struggle, they vindicate their efforts with the consolations found inherently within the work itself, the act of writing. Here's what some writers in the HFR interview archives had to say about that. (For more Ask the Archives topics, click here. To submit a question or topic to send us digging for an answer, email

A chore? I write novels because novels are my choice. It’s stimulating: that’s what I want to do. But it’s hard, it’s irritating, it makes you unpleasant, it makes it hard to be with people and hard for people to be with you…But I write novels because I want to. I mean, I think people can enjoy their work and still take their work seriously. But they can only take it seriously if it isn’t easy.

I like writing poetry, but there are times when I would much rather watch television than read poetry, so I sympathize with this situation. Certainly no one is obliged to read my poetry or any poetry, but there are people and moments when this is an important pleasure.

The point is, writing with ease and the goodness of the work is unexpected. Every now and then there’s a work of genius for no reason you can figure out; everything comes together, everything somehow magically comes together. A freeing up in the inner being, a subject that’s surefire, a piece of experience, for some reason, some mysterious reason, the writer stands right in the middle of that experience and can see all around it. Otherwise you’re hacking your way trough a jungle all the goddamned time to figure out what the hell you’re writing.

And there is also the whole issue of communication and writing as a gift. Yet it’s like a realm. It is not just me trying to write a poem, it’s the things that come into the poems, visible and invisible. All the things that matter get to be part of the poems. It’s the thing that I have even though everything else is taken away…

I don’t want to harp on the economics of it all, but I do think it’s harder now to take writing seriously. When I went to college, Eliot was firmly on his throne; one had no need to defend writing as something worth doing. Now I think anyone who sets out to write must at some point wonder if it is really not sort of a dying little dead-end. The Gutenbergian age is in its twilight: why should I be doing this for an American audience which basically doesn’t read anymore, juts flicks on the tube or whatever else it does—goes out and has a beer?
…So I guess I’m still reading fiction in hope of finding things there, news about life, news about what it’s like to be alive in a certain place.

The one thing about writing, therefore, is that you are always coming up against the limitations of your own habits…
…I don’t know if art is escape, but work is escape and essential activity in life, really, and so I love having something long to work on because you go to your desk knowing that you’ve got this deep absorbing task to do. It is tremendously frustrating at times, but having the space to work out a complex subject fills up many days, and that is the wonderful thing about it.
…Do it! If you want to write, write!

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