It is one of my true beliefs that the majority of the problems in the world are caused by people thinking, “My experience is the same experience everyone has had. And if they don’t have my experience then they’re doing it wrong.”
A more poetic way to say this is to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you make assumptions.
I try to step out of my own experience to see others’. I also, as you know, Bob, like to encourage the new writer who is discouraged. I quit writing for 10 years because I was discouraged, and if I can stop someone else from losing ten years of their writing life then I will damn well try as hard as I can.[
Thusly, I was quite annoyed when I read this article about Philip Roth pooping on a young writer’s (Julian Tepper) dream by suggesting he quit after the sale of his first book. And it wasn’t because the guy was crap, or that he had no potential. Tepper’s first novel is about to come out! No, Roth just said, “It’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful.”
I often compare this job to ditch digging because dangit, you have to get your work done (plug for Magic Spreadsheet goes here) no matter whether the inspiration strikes you or not. But here’s the deal- writing is unlike ditch digging (besides the very obvious way) in that manual labor is hard, and thankless, and rarely what kids dream they will be. Kids dream of being writers. And they write, and yes, throw away, a lot of words in their efforts to be writers. It’s mentally and emotionally hard work. It’s agonizing sometimes. But sheesh, what career isn’t? I can’t think of any job that’s super easy, fun, rewarding, and not tough on you ever.
A writing career is a dream come true for a lot of people. And you’re going to have more people thanking you for how your book affected their lives than you will have people thanking you for making sure the roads don’t flood when it storms. Even if you write wacky superhero satire, you can make a difference in someone’s life.
Roth clearly is not a happy writer (obviously, since he just recently retired from it.) Or he wasn’t the day that Tepper gave him a copy of his book. But Roth never considered that perhaps Tepper’s career isn’t going to mirror his experience exactly. And I’m not even talking about the external fame and money, I’m talking about his internal view of his life and career. Tepper might view writing as something other than “torture.” (I hope Roth is never tortured. Cause my worst day writing isn’t quite torture… Amnesty International has never investigated my office.) Some people love writing. Some see it as work that needs to be done. Some people are self-loathing and trudge to the computer to open a vein and drink scotch and complain about writing later. But there must be some reason they do it…
Anyway, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a response to Roth here, which is how I heard about this, and wanted to give my two cents.
Chase that dream to be a writer. It’s awesome.