How Suffering is Part of the Creative Process
At a recent writer’s group, author Michelle Tom described libraries as “archives of pain.” While this melodramatic pronouncement made us all laugh, we had to agree that there was a lot of truth in what she said.
Because it hurts to write a novel.
As a reader, you can blissfully wander the aisles of libraries and bookstores, stopping wherever your fancy takes you. You can pick up a book and leaf through a few pages, walk on by or screw up your face in disgust at a substandard back cover blurb.
Now, imagine if the author was right there with you. An author who worked and sweated and agonized for years to create that book you put back on the shelf, deciding after a cursory glance that it wasn’t worth your while.
Having recently written a novel, I can attest to the pain that authors go through. My mother, as a postgraduate student, used to say that writing an essay is like having a baby.
And so it is, because our books are our babies. Our writing, whether it is fiction or non fiction, lyrics or poetry, doctorates or theses, contain so much of ourselves.
Our books contain our dreams, our desires and our fears. They are created in love and coaxed into being during nights when they won’t let us rest and days when they push us to the limits of our physical, emotional and mental endurance.
We keep them close and nurture them until it’s time to hand them over to the world. We fight back tears at the school gate, hoping the other kids will play nice and the teacher will be a trustworthy guide.
I drew heavily on personal experience for my first novel, the one I have been writing this past year. This involved going back to times in my life that we’re difficult as well as going to happy times that have now past and will never come again.
I have had to relive the times that people have let me down, times when I have been embarrassed and ashamed and times of difficulty and hardship. I have had to remember people and places I have lost to death, estrangement or the constant flux of a life with too many changes.
I have spent endless hours cooped up in my room on sunny days. I have let weeds run riot, laundry pile up to mountainous proportions and left countless administrative tasks unchecked until they threatened to rise up and overturn my life completely.
I stopped making plans with friends, became distant with family, neglected my health and my performance at my day job has suffered.
And for what?
To produce this thing called a novel. A made up story I feel compelled to tell; a pack of lies, a fantasy. An explanation and justification for my life. A lullaby I use to sing myself to sleep.
And what do I get at the end of it all?
An elephant stamp from a publisher, if I’m lucky. A pat on the back from a reader who I’ve entertained for a while. A stab of rejection from a passerby who throws me back in the Bargain Bin with a dismissive flick of the wrist.
So much effort goes into writing a novel, with no guarantee of reward at the end.
But then, as someone said to me the other day.