Writing is tough. In fact, I don’t know of any activity that is more difficult than writing. I know this is not so for every writer. There are some gifted individuals, as disparate as Joyce Carol Oates on the one hand, and Nora Roberts on the other, who write seemingly without effort, turning out vast numbers of books and, even more impressively, vast numbers of pages a day.
Nora Roberts is famous for publishing, on a quite routine basis, some ten novels a year. She is loved by her readers, and despised by the critics. Joyce Carol Oates, loved by both critics and readers, in her prime wrote forty five pages a day.
These are the outliers. Speaking for myself, and for many writers, both published and unpublished, I know that the process of developing story that is both rich and inevitable is just about as exhausting as anything can be.
And yet, we persist, because the personal rewards are so great – and the lure of professional, not to say, financial, success, as distant as it may sometimes seem, so enticing.
I’d like to dwell on one particular personal reward for a moment.
A curious phenomenon has been playing itself out in the US for some years now, which a couple of observers have started drawing attention to. On the one hand, talk therapy has been in decline for a decade or two. Woody Allen might, famously, have consulted a therapist five times a week for decades – but people like him are in a shrinking minority.
At the same time, writing schools, both academic and non-academic, writing retreats, short writing courses and online writing programmes have flourished as never before.
Everyone and her mother is writing a memoir, or thinking of writing a novel, or secretly has written not just a novel, but a trilogy!
Surely there’s a connection somewhere here? Less talk therapy, more writing. It’s merely a correlation at present, but I’m waiting for the research that shows a causal connection.
Because writing fiction is therapy, even if what we write is the airiest possible piece of romantic froth. To write it demands that we plumb our own experience, and our own feelings and, yes, even our own traumas. Romance in life is never trivial, although romance in fiction is so easily – and so wrongly – dismissed as meaningless nonsense.
Of course, that’s why writing’s difficult: because we have to drill deep to the emotions that drive the fiction. And that process of finding within ourselves the wellsprings of both joy and despair will always leave us wrung out.
Which doesn’t answer the conundrum posed by people like Roberts and Oates – but it does explain, to my satisfaction, why a morning’s brainstorm leaves me beached and panting for the rest of the day.
About the Author
Richard Beynon is an award-winning film and television scriptwriter with a long and accomplished career in the industry. He, together with novelist Jo-Anne Richards, run Allaboutwriting which teaches creative writing face to face in Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as online – and mentors writers through the process of writing fiction, non-fiction and screenplays. Richard is currently cruising the canals of England, on his narrowboat Patience. Read about it here.