Elizabeth Gilbert on Writing

In this Paris Review piece published at the end of 2012, Julian Tepper writes about some (uncharacteristically caustic) writing advice he received from Philip Roth:

I would quit while you’re ahead. Really. It’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and you write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.

This week, Elizabeth Gilbert countered with a brilliant post on Bookish.com, a site that was unveiled this week:

Because, seriously–is writing really all that difficult? Yes, of course, it is; I know this personally–but is it that much more difficult than other things? Is it more difficult than working in a steel mill, or raising a child alone, or commuting three hours a day to a deeply unsatisfying cubicle job, or doing laundry in a nursing home, or running a hospital ward, or being a luggage handler, or digging septic systems, or waiting tables at a delicatessen, or–for that matter–pretty much anything else that people do?

Not really, right?

In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and share a little secret about the writing life that nobody likes to admit: Compared to almost every other occupation on earth, it’s f*cking great. I say this as somebody who spent years earning exactly zero dollars for my writing (while waiting tables, like Mr. Tepper) and who now makes many dollars at it. But zero dollars or many dollars, I can honestly say it’s the best life there is, because you get to live within the realm of your own mind, and that is a profoundly rare human privilege. What’s more, you have no boss to speak of. You’re not exposed to any sexual abuse or toxic chemicals on the job site (unless you’re sexually abusing yourself, or eating Doritos while you type). You don’t have to wear a nametag, and–unless you are exceptionally clumsy–you rarely run the risk of cutting off your hand in the machinery. Writing, I tell you, has everything to recommend it over real work.

In fact, maybe that’s why established authors complain so loudly about their tormented existences–so nobody else will find out how great writing actually is, and take their jobs away. (Kind of like those people who come home from amazing holidays, and then lie to their neighbors about how terrible that remote Mexican beach was, just to make sure the place remains undiscovered and unruined forever.)

Or maybe it’s just vanity that makes authors gripe so much about their ordeal. Maybe writers have simply come to believe themselves to be so very special, and their work so very important, that they can’t imagine anybody else capable of doing it: You, little one, could never possibly create what I have created, or withstand all that I have withstood, so you’d best not try at all.

I recommend reading the whole response here.

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(via Explore)

3 thoughts on “Elizabeth Gilbert on Writing

  1. That’s a very good point that I think a lot of writers need to be reminded of. We may complain a lot, but it isn’t manual labor. I would argue that mental exhaustion is a real thing, though, but let’s face it. Few of us have ever really reached that point. On a side note? Have you seen Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on writing? It’s fabulous! I don’t have the link handy, but I’m sure a quick google would pull it up.

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