Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fear, Guilt, Shame, Self-Loathing, and Doubt - Anybody Up for Writing a Novel?

Self-doubt is an inevitable part of writing, but before I launch into a diatribe about romantic delusions, disheveled writers (that would be Franzen), and the general role of mythology regarding the life of the Escriteur, let me just say that if Franzen feels self-doubt, it is completely warranted. (Have you read Freedom? Tell the truth, now - did you actually like it?) 

If you have doubts, does this mean your beloved novel is a piece of crap, and that you should quit right now before you follow in Franzen's self-loathing footsteps?

No, keep writing. And keep revising. And make sure that you've given your finished manuscript to the most critical readers on earth, and that they have drawn blood.

Writing is not about self-doubt, or guilt, or shame - it's about discipline. And discipline involves pain.

Embrace it.

OK, now that I've gotten that off my chest, this is what I think about the whole insecure, suffering artist shtick: It gets old very quickly, especially when you have to support a family, diaper babies, and make sure they don't drink and drive when you have finally finished weaning them.

If you want to be a writer, in all likelihood you will be poor for a very long time. But, by god, if you've got something to say, you should just go ahead and say it - without all the guilt and shame and self-doubt and badly needed counseling of writers who have been hugged by Oprah. 

Do your work as best you can, and don't waste time gazing in the mirror.

Literary self-loathing: How Jonathan Franzen, Elizabeth Gilbert and more keep it at bay

By Michele Filgate, Salon, Dec 1, 2013

Self-loathing is in the writer’s blood. When you’re an artist of any kind, there’s no certainty that what you’re working on won’t be a complete failure. But when writers reach a certain level of fame, when they make Oprah’s Book Club or the cover of Time magazine, surely they don’t struggle with the same massive insecurities we lesser known writers face?

The answer, of course, is that it’s human nature to struggle with oneself. That icky feeling of discontent we often experience is what sometimes inspires the best art.

“I experience shame and self-reproach more or less continually,” Jonathan Franzen (author of “Freedom”) told me. “The only way to deal with it is to keep trying to immerse myself in the fictional dream and hope that good sentences come out of that.  Once there are good sentences on the page, I can feel a loyalty to them and start following their logic, and take refuge from myself.”

I love the idea of the writer taking refuge from who he is by putting words on the page. Writing, in fact, provides a much needed escape or confrontation with our worst emotions.  It’s just so hard to get to that blissful place where the words are all that matters.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the vicious trap of self-defeat. My bedroom is the most organized when I’m on deadline. Is there anything more uncomfortable than staring at a blank page and knowing that you have to fill it with not only words, but words that matter? It’s far easier to walk away from the laptop, to alphabetize the piles of books on my floor, to call a friend and complain about my lack of productivity, to check Twitter and post an inspirational quote about literature or writing. To declare to your followers that you are writing, even when you’ve only written a few sentences and deleted them. The irony, of course, is that what’s uncomfortable is not writing. And the majority of writers spend many hours of their waking lives not writing — whether they’re doing their day jobs or tending to parental duties or just avoiding it. So most of a writer’s life is ridden with guilt.

If you aren't already incapacitated by guilt, and/or nausea, you can read the rest of this article HERE.


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