Try to think of writing as a gift — more complexly put: it is the curse and the cure.”—Julianna Baggott
Last month, a fun challenge circled among 2020 debut authors on Instagram, encouraging us to share interesting tidbits about ourselves and our upcoming books. I enjoyed the posts from my fellow authors and participated occasionally as well. But one question in particular so intrigued me, that instead of making a brief insta-post about it, I decided it deserved a full blog piece.
The question was: Is writing a blessing or a curse?
As if that’s a simple, black or white, yes or no question.
I believe writers all have a moment when they realize it’s not as easy as they thought it was going to be. When childhood dreams of high royalties, movie deals, and crowded book signings are extinguished like a king tide over a bonfire. Dreams burn hot and big, but the reality wave is bigger. Perhaps they were pipe dreams, but still—it’s a blow.
My moment came when I took my first creative writing class in college. I must clarify, however, that becoming an author was never a serious ambition of mine. Before age 32, I had never written a full story. I wrote constantly, but in the form of poetry, song lyrics, or journal entries, which became a creative outlet for me. I thought about becoming an author until I heard repeatedly that “writers starve.” Then I entered college and learned that not only do writers starve, but anyone majoring in English does too. So like any rational person, I pursued other interests.
That being said, I’m not quite sure how I ended up in a creative writing class. I believe it was either a distraction or an urge I couldn’t repress. Maybe both. But the first thing it taught me was that I. Could. Not. Write.
Perhaps this came from observing the great talent of other students in the class, which prompted me to shove my work into dark corners of my backpack and avoid sharing it at all costs. Maybe it was my teacher’s comments on my work—helpful but candid suggestions about what it lacked. He kindly never read my story to the class (he reserved that honor for more promising talent) but once described a scene of mine, which inflicted great torture on me and probably the rest of the class as well. This confirmed my growing suspicion that I wasn’t cut out to be a serious writer.
Which makes the fact that I wrote a novel only a decade later that much more astonishing. It was a miracle. And like all miracles, it’s been a tremendous blessing.
Writing a story brought an exhilaration into my life that has never been equalled, before or since—except through more writing. It pushed me out of constrictive comfort zones and helped me develop thick(er) skin and a broader view of the world. Creating a piece of art, especially one that requires significant effort and sacrifice, brings incredible satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. This is especially true when after a discouraging and seemingly unproductive day of writing, I return to my manuscript to find it doesn’t sound so bad after all—and might even be good.
For all these reasons, writing is a blessing. I might even call it the greatest blessing of my life, after my faith, family, and friends. So how could it be a curse, too?
I’ll try to give a short answer.
I’m extremely uncomfortable in the limelight. Like many writers, I’m content, happy and comfortable behind the scenes. Essentially, that’s what authors do—we put our characters out there to face the conflict, the daring adventures and frightening failures. They get the attention, we don’t. But we find joy in providing this excitement for any reader who connects with them.
Writers are often introverts who think and feel deeply. We’re profoundly observant and love to analyze and ponder the workings of the world. We get excited by imagery, metaphors, and complex emotional intricacies. We avoid confrontation and conflict, sometimes at detrimental costs—yet thrive off writing about them. Because of this, I’m often torn between the longing to share my work and the horror of not just rejection and criticism, but praise and recognition as well. It’s unreasonable, but I’m sure many writers can relate. That Catch-22 is part of the curse of writing.
And then there’s the reality of building a writing career. Some authors whip out a book a year, or more. They make a good living off the brand they’ve established by targeting a specific audience and/or genre. They’ve collected fans and a following on social media. By the stats, they’re considered successful. And yet many of them can’t quit their day job to devote full time to writing.
Other authors spend years on the same story, hoping to bring it to a publishable state. This can be a curse because it consumes so much time and energy without much to show for it—just that satisfying sense of accomplishment and creative release, with perhaps a few compliments and congratulations.
That satisfaction is enough to make it a blessing. But it’s also why authors try so hard to get their books out there. It’s not that we thrive off of good reviews or hope to make millions off our work (though admittedly, that would be nice.) It’s that we’ve experienced all the adventures, disappointments, joys, heartaches, and triumphs with our characters, and want to share that with the world. As if anyone can possibly have the same experience consuming it as we had creating it. When an author can convey this, even a little, then he/she has truly succeeded. But this is why we have such a hard time critiquing our own work. We read our story and relive all the emotion and excitement of devising it, and assume the reader will feel it too—when many times they don’t.
So we put our heart and soul into our work, we neglect household or even vocational duties, forgo movies, television, social media or other interests, all to make almost nothing off of it and get ripped apart by critics, or if we’re lucky, ignored. (That was written in jest, by the way. I’m not that pessimistic.) Of course there are rewards along the way and encouragement from readers who discover and enjoy our story. And there’s hope for producing something better, if we work hard and don’t give up. But the truth is, there are so many books for readers to choose from. They can afford to be picky. They don’t care how much time authors spend brainstorming and researching and revising and hoping and crying and refusing to give up. They only care if it holds their interest long enough to turn the next page. And this is so subjective, that any guess as to what will sell is as good as the next. As authors, we can’t write with that hope in mind. No reader can be relied upon, which means we can only write for ourselves.
This may be a curse, it may be a blessing. In the end, it’s irrelevant. Because true writers can’t stop writing even if they wished to. Maybe we’d stop typing or putting words down on paper—but the prose, the dialogue, the imagery would reverberate continually through our minds, generating metaphors and exposing the ironies of life. Characters would come to life and ideas would still flitter through our heads like vibrant, enticing butterflies.
Eventually it would beg to come out. Like the time I found myself, a college student immersed in a science major, enrolled in a creative writing class.
That is the greatest blessing of writing.
And the greatest curse.