I am trying to write a novel and it sucks.
It sucks for all the reasons I’d expected: the weeks and weeks of writer’s block, the stilted clichés that sneak out the moment you’re not vigilant enough, the grinding frustration of trying unsnarl a set of words that for whatever reason just won’t do what you want them to do. I knew about all that stuff and, on some level, was prepared for it; after all, these are all things that I’ve experienced to some degree as a semi-professional freelance writer. What I wasn’t ready for was my inability to justify writing a book. Every time I open that goddamn Word document all I feel is this rush of ugly panic, and the cloud of oh my god what am I doing why am I doing this displaces every confident thought I’ve managed to muster up.
Here’s what I’ve realized: I am afraid of creative writing in large part because I’m worried that it will be a waste of my time and resources. I’m worried that it will take away from the other work that I do – including unpaid gigs like this blog – and that in the end the measurable satisfaction that I get out of writing a novel will be less than the effort I put into it.
Even more paralyzing is the fact that I know I’m not supposed to feel this way. Art is supposed to be this thing that you do because you’re a Very Special Person who has to create or else you’ll die. That’s why artists starve, right? Because their passion is noble and authentic and above the heights of reason, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to be real and free and I don’t know, whatever other garbage people believe about art. Creativity is supposed to be a calling, and if you worry about failing then you’re Doing It Wrong because you can’t fail if you’re being true to yourself. And forget about considering finances, because real art has nothing to do with money. Talk of money sullies the purity of art.
The thing is, all of that is very high-minded and beautiful, but it’s also not really how shit works.
We live in a culture that simultaneously holds the idea of art up to these ridiculous standards, and at the same time provides very little concrete support for the people actually creating said art. Our society loves the idea that artists are these ascetic geniuses with a single-minded dedication to their craft, a belief that tends to let us off the hook when it comes to funding art. I mean, if artists are going to create art anyway, then why bother offering assistance, financial or otherwise? And really, doesn’t poverty somehow heighten the legitimacy of art? Like, if the art you’re consuming isn’t created by some tortured soul living in a rat-infested tenement, then you might as well be buying framed prints from Ikea and reading Danielle Steel.
If wanting money is crass, then wanting fame – or, at the very least, some kind of recognition – is worse. Because you’re not supposed to create with an audience in mind; that kind of thinking is for people who use words like “brand” and “content.” A true artist only ever makes things that are a perfect reflection of their most precious ideas, without ever wondering how other people will react. Who cares how people react? People are peasants, and if they don’t understand what you’re trying to communicate then the failure is theirs and theirs alone.
But, like, fuck that. Fuck all of that. Why are people allowed to want money for literally any other job besides creative work? I know writing is supposed to be a vocation or whatever, but that doesn’t mean you only ever do it without expecting payment. I’m not out here expecting free childcare because my son’s daycare teachers are performing a labour of love or whatever. And sure people should be making things that they’re passionate about, but that doesn’t mean they can’t ever possibly consider their potential audience. What is so filthy-dirty wrong about wanting success?
I know that anything that brings you joy is never a waste (uh, I guess unless the pain of others brings you joy, in which case maybe it’s time to reevaluate your life), but I’m tired of pretending that the act of creating itself is the be all and end all in terms of fulfillment. Making money for what you’ve created is also fulfilling; so is receiving praise. If I said that I never thought about either of those things while writing, I’d be lying. So either I’m just not cut out to Write Fiction (which, let’s face it, is entirely possible), or else maybe we need to revisit how we view creativity.
Art is work. Most of the time it’s lonely, boring work. Sometimes you feel your internal needle slide into the groove and you feel unstoppable, but most of the time it’s kind of miserable. And not miserable in a romantic, 19th century painter with a weirdly attractive case of tuberculosis kind of way. Miserable in the sense of I wish I was doing literally anything else but this. But the fact is that you’re still doing it, and that must count for something.
So how do i justify writing a book? I don’t have an answer for that yet. What am I doing and why am I doing it? I don’t know. Will it be worth it? I have no idea. What metrics do you use to determine your own personal satisfaction? The heart wants what it wants. In short: I’ve got nothing. I just want to take this space to acknowledge how sucky creative work can be, and how the high ideals we have about art don’t do much to alleviate that suckiness.
I am trying to write a novel and it sucks.