The Risky Writing Life

From Publishers Weekly:

It might seem that writers live pretty safe lives. Yes, there are some, mostly journalists, who immerse themselves in troubled and war-torn countries, and they can and do get hurt. But most of us who write sit at keyboards or notepads every day and create stuff—poems, plays, stories, essays—mostly from our heads.

Still, though we may be safe from physical harm, all of us who write know that every hour we devote to our notepads or keyboards, every moment we stop and think and dwell on the thoughts and ideas that will, in one way or another, find life on a page or computer display, involves a variety of potentially monumental risks. There’s financial risk, risk of never getting published, risk of bad reviews, risk of making enemies of those about whom we write. And there is no risk greater for a writer than emotional risk—which is why writing one’s memoir is ultimately the riskiest of all.

Think about the writer’s life. Whether we write for an hour or eight hours every day, whether we write before sunrise or late into the night after the kids have been tucked into bed, we are often toiling in limbo and with ongoing hope—and doubt. “Will I get it right?” we wonder. “And how long might that take?” It is all so isolating. It is not as if we can discuss our writing with friends and colleagues and neighbors. Talking about what we are writing, the essence of what we are trying to say, can and often does leave us empty when we eventually sit down to write it.

. . . .

Writing is often spontaneous. Ideas are inspired by the sheer act of writing—even if we are writing our own histories. Sometimes it works. But mostly, alas, it doesn’t—not the first time or the second time or even the third time. Or the first month or year. We do it again and again, relentlessly, sentence after sentence, after paragraph after page, fighting the frustration and our demons, as well as the fear of failure.

When writing a memoir, the risks we take at the keyboard are only the beginning. What will our friends think? Will our family members object to the way we’ve described and judged them, or disagree with the way we remember incidents? Maybe some will think less of us based on the stories and the truths we tell. Or maybe they’ll question or criticize our decisions—how we behaved, how we parented, how we brought problems on ourselves. This can be frustrating and downright embarrassing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly