Writing Is Not Misery
What resulted was the usual collection of myths and stereotypes around writing—around creativity in general—coming equally from the host's apparently ignorant questions, from the writers pontificating as program guests, and from the many callers. It ended up being an irritating and annoying mess, as usual, in which the usual stereotypes about writers were dragged out and paraded around, where nothing of any real substance was given, and no real insight ensued. (Full disclosure: I did try to call in as a writer, but for reasons unknown was unable to get through.)
Let's face it: Many writers have no clue why they write, they just do it. Why do dancers dance? Why do painters paint? Yet what makes these sorts of writer's public roundtables toxic, perhaps especially to fledgling writers, is how the guests hem and haw around the question, and don't really answer it. Perhaps writers are more prone to fits of self-justification because they are discussing what they do with meta-descriptions: using the same language tools they use in the their creative work, but one step removed. We're writers, we're supposed to be good with words, so we ought to be able to explain ourselves, right? There's a tendency to expect writers to be able to answer the question Why do you write? whereas one would accept in reply a shrug and a smile if one asked a dancer a parallel question.
The thoroughly typical, irritating stereotype about writing that kept being recycled on today's radio program was the usual set of Dysfunctional Writer archetypes. One caller proclaimed that "Great writing comes from miserable people," and the corollary, "Writing is misery." The discussion thereafter revolved around the miseries of being a writer, how you have to be miserable to write anything good, how writing itself makes you miserable, and so forth.
Well, frak that.
At no time did anyone on this radio program have the guts to state the three most important reasons why many writers really, truly, genuinely, actually write:
Because I can.
Because I want to.
Because I feel like it.
Certainly there are other reasons to write. But no other reasons are necessary.
There is no reason why you write except those. It remains a choice. Of course, for some writers, it's a compulsion: they write because they must. There are many reasons for that must, one of the most popular being: "It's as necessary as breathing, and if I don't I go a little crazy." That's a good enough reason, and needs no justification. The choice may be as simple as, I write to scratch that itch, but it's always still a choice. We're not animals determined by genetic fate; because we are conscious creatures, we always have the choice to override our instincts. I choose to write because I can, because I like doing it, and because it fulfills some need to be creative. That need to be creative, of which I have a long and friendly relationship, is the opposite of dysfunctional, and as necessary as breathing. I scratch the itch many ways, by making music, visual art, and by writing. I enjoy scratching the itch, and the itch enjoys being scratched.
Still, the archetype of the Dysfunctional Artist is such a toxic one, yet it keeps getting recycled in popular-culture programs such as this one. One wonders if people really want to subscribe to that idea. Perhaps it's just easier for non-artists to want to believe that "You must suffer for your art." That there's a price to be paid, that the Muses demand blood and sweat. It's certainly the case that even many artists are quick to dismiss as facile even good art that the artists didn't suffer enough about during the creative process.
Today's radio discussion would have been a great deal more thoughtful if the writers tapped as guests had been more seasoned, more secure in their careers and their craft, and had had the guts to not be afraid of offending anyone by saying, "No, wait, that's wrong." Instead of a lot of bland philosophizing based on stereotypes, there might have been a genuine insight.
But then, okay, writing may indeed by misery for you. Fair enough. (Although one wonders why you would keep engaging in doing an activity you know is going to make you miserable. Which leads to deeper questions about why.) But it's not misery for me. And it's not misery for every writer.
So if you want to believe that writing is misery, or that you yourself have to be miserable to be a writer, go right ahead. Your beliefs about the creative process will make themselves come true. But don't make the ridiculous error of proclaiming that, just because writing for you is misery, that writing itself is misery, and that all writers must suffer as much as you do.
Sorry, I just can't seem to find it in myself to suffer as much as some might want me to. Not for my art. Not for any reason, really.