Hey, Writers. Stop Your Freakin’ Whining
By Larry Kahaner
Most of my working life, I’ve been a non-fiction writer. I’ve penned over 15 books some with my name and some I’ve ghosted. I know a lot of non-fiction writers. They’re my friends and colleagues.
When I decided to write a novel, USA, Inc., which was just published, (shameless plug) I started hobnobbing with fiction authors, some established but mostly newbies like me. In fact, I started this blog to help me move from non-fiction to fiction. I hope I’ve helped others do the same, because many non-fiction writing traits, habits and experience are transferable.
Right off the bat, though, I noticed that fiction writers are different than non-fiction writers — and not in a good way.
They are a bunch of whiney-babies.
They complain about money. They grumble about how the work is difficult. They whimper about how they can’t find the time to write. They moan about plots, themes, dialogues, characters, distractions, attention deficit issues, emotional burnout and their muse being on holiday. Oh, and let’s not forget ‘writer’s block’ which is just a made up malady for not feeling like working today. (Do plumbers have plumber’s block? Do doctors have doctor’s block?)
The carping seemed endless.
I was surprised at this infinite hole of discontent and unhappiness. I tried to understand it, but I couldn’t. Maybe it’s because I write for a living so complaining all the time would be soul-breaking. If I didn’t like the work, I would have obtained employment in a different area. Yes, writing is difficult; it’s even harder to make a living at it. I get that, but why do these fiction folks keep knocking their heads against their respective walls and tell the rest of us how hard their writing lives are? They seem to savor their arduous fiction-writing lives and relish telling anyone who will listen.
I’m not saying I’m totally right, but here’s what I think is going on:
Many fiction writers have this romantic notion that artists must suffer. They believe that if they’re not suffering and complaining that they’re not true creators. Where did they get this idea? Well, from many famous writers and artists who have hidden their anguish with alcohol, drugs, bad behavior and annoying habits that drive those around them nuts. They wore the displeasure of their craft like a badge of honor.
The other errant notion is that creative types, like writers, are extreme, eccentrics or misfits and if you want to enter that group you must behave accordingly – and that includes telling everyone around you how difficult your craft is. If you don’t, then you’re not being really a creative.
You don’t have to be crazy and, moreover, you don’t have to act cray-cray just to fit into a misplaced notion that writers are a little off, weird or different. You can be normal and be a writer. All you have to do is do the work.
I will concede that being a writer requires an open emotional life and that can manifest itself in day-to-day pain, discomfort and dislocation from society, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it to others or yourself. I will also acknowledge that good writers must dig deep inside to turn feelings into words and that can be a frustrating and often painful process. Doing this on a daily basis can make you a tad squirrely and you may want to vent. My advice is don’t. Try to foster a work/life demarcation like others who deal with raw, unsettling emotions like police, lawyers or Walmart employees.
One last point: Writing is a hard life and the work is difficult. The money doesn’t always come. You suffer rejection and disappointment in the pit of your being. You may not have the talent or temperament to be a writer, so why do it? Why do people insist that writing a novel is some pinnacle to be scaled no matter what the physical, emotional or spiritual cost? Not to sound harsher than I’ve been, but we don’t need any more books published. There are plenty. And…shhh… don’t tell anyone… if you don’t write your book, the world will still spin.
If you do continue to write, for god’s sake, stop freaking complaining about it. I’m tired of hearing it and guess what… so are your friends and loved ones.
PS – The irony of complaining about complaining did not elude me, so take that off the table when you’re composing your snarky responses.