I was over at one of my favourite homes-away-from-home on the web, and Aunt B. was talking about the difficulty of the writing process and how the issues she’s dredged up while writing a particular chapter of her novel are clashing with other issues in her real life.
Whenever anyone talks about writing professionally–and I’ve read hundreds of interviews and Being A Writer FAQs that address this–they always say something along the lines of how it isn’t as hard as digging ditches. Or something. Like factory work or road construction etc.
People seem to have this misconception that writing fiction is this easy bit of a lark where you sit around and just make stuff up. And as a person who has laboured over more than one novel in her lifetime, I promise you that novel writing is NOT easy. At least not if the novel you intend to produce is any good at all.
No, it isn’t digging ditches or filling potholes. Nor is it brain surgery or rocket science. But it is a practiced cruelty, a dragging of your own mind into places that are unpleasant, uncomfortable or sad. Imagine sitting down and describing the worst, most embarrassing, most uncomfortable, most intimate moments of your lifetime. Word by word, exposing the musty corners of your brain. And picture doing that for hours and hours and hours. Because that’s the emotionally exhausting experience of writing fiction.
Sure, you are making things up. But since you are not a deity, everything you create must start with something. Just as any cake starts as flour, sugar, eggs and butter, the story you tell about someone you’ve made up starts as things you’ve seen or experienced. You swap them around a bit, embellish with other things you’ve imagined. But the ingredients are all pieces of experience which live inside your head. Bugs you’ve seen become monsters. Arguments you’ve had become fights between characters. The exhiliration of falling in love–its own kind of exhausting wonder–you live through again as you have a character fall in love. The heartbreak of breaking up, of watching dogs and parents die. It all gets remade in the form of the story you tell.
And I promise you that after five years of doing this nearly full time, there are many many days that I would rather dig a ditch or fill a pothole.