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Elizabeth Gilbert: Is writing really so (bleeping) hard? Compared to what?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Double Down, Feb 9, 2013.

  1. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Quick summary: Philip Roth, who we'll all acknowledge is one of the greatest American authors of this century, tells a young, newly-published novelist to get out of the writing game because it's horrible, you'll spend your life a tortured soul, the joys never outweigh the miseries, etc.

    Elizabeth Gilbert, journalist, essayist, biographer, and famous because of her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love — for my money, maybe the most narcissistic, tone-deaf popular book written in the last 10 years — calls Roth out for it.

    And, I think she's right. A good example of the message trumping whatever misgivings I have about the messenger.

    My dear friend Norrin will take special pleasure in the section about writers kvetching about how hard writing is to inflate their sense of self.


  2. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    One of my journalism professors often said, "Anyone can do this job, but most people would suck at it." That was before we had the phrase "humblebrag."
  3. Azrael

    Azrael Well-Known Member

    "The writing life" > writing
  4. TheSportsPredictor

    TheSportsPredictor Well-Known Member

    Writing is easy.

    Writing well is hard.
  5. huntsie

    huntsie Active Member

    The mechanics of writing are not difficult. The ability to write well is a gift. I work with a kid who strings for us. He's two months short of graduating with a four-year degree in journalism. His stuff is incoherent. The facts are there. Poorly assembled. Poorly expressed. The kid has the enthusiasm of a puppy and the work ethic of a sheep dog. But he can't write.
    They're doing this kid a disservice if they give him a degree and announce to the world he's ready. And he may never be.
  6. Glenn Stout

    Glenn Stout Member

    I wouldn't say it's easy, but I spent a number of years working construction, pouring concrete, tying steel, and humping iron, and even sort of liked doing it. But every time I walk past a construction site now I still feel very fortunate.
  7. jackfinarelli

    jackfinarelli Member

    Amen to this!
  8. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Perhaps, but it can be learned, depending on what your bar for "well" is.
  9. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Calling it a gift, which seems like a compliment, I think dismisses the years of work and study it requires to do it well. Even Hemingway thought of it as masonry in its own way. Build the sentences one stubborn word at a time, then strip away and sand down the excess.

    No one can "work hard enough" or "learn" to write like David Foster Wallace. Or Philip Roth. Or Pynchon. Marquez. Countless others. They represent the divine blend of genius and years and years hard work.

    But typically we're not talking about genius. I was watching Ratatouille with my daughter last night and was once again moved by one of its main messages: Anyone can make art, but it requires a curiosity and focus and dedication to the craft.

    Maybe this intern isn't focused on getting better, maybe he's not reading enough, or maybe he's just not interested in writing and is interested in sportswriting for reasons other than writing: excitement, minor fame, love of sports, etc.

    I know four or five writers I think could be better than average, maybe even great (again, great being relative) if they worked a little harder or cared a little more. I could be a lot better if i worked harder. I actually think the idea that one cuts open a vein and lets it bleed onto the page is a little silly, and the writer who said that quote would probably agree. That's only true about things that are very personal and emotional. It ain't magic.

    99 percent of the time, it's just about grinding. Grinding and failing, until its good enough. For now. Because deadline is here.
  10. huntsie

    huntsie Active Member

    I think work and study develop your talent. But the talent is innate. I think hard work, and dedication can make you better. But the Jim Murrays and the Stephen Brunts and the Bruce Arthurs (I'm Canadian) -- that's a gift.
  11. 3_Octave_Fart

    3_Octave_Fart Well-Known Member

  12. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Word for word, DD.

    Could I be David Foster Wallace? Or F. Scott Fitzgerald? No.

    If I worked hard enough, and had enough time, could I be Gilian Flynn? Or Ann Patchett? Or John Irving? I think so.

    In a lot of ways, I think that the writing - words and sentences and structure and plotting - is kind of the easy part. The tough part is the understanding and perception of human nature that even semi-successful novelists and nonfiction narrative book writers seem to have. But that can be honed, too. Lots out there about psychology and philosophy for background reading, to be mainlined until the writer internalizes it all.
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