Monday, June 22, 2009

Use Your Pain for Fun and Profit

Many years ago I spoke at a writing conference in Arizona and I recently came across the paper I prepared for it. I liked what I had to say then (of course, I quoted everybody and their dog) and thought I’d share some of it here.

There is a story in a book about publishing that tells how God decided to visit the earth. Strolling down the road, God encountered a sobbing man. “Why are you crying, my child?” he asked

The man said, “God, I am blind.” so God touched him and the man could see and he was happy.

As God walked farther he met another crying man and asked again, “Why are you crying, my child?

The man said, “God I am crippled.” so god touched him and the man could walk and he was happy.

Farther down the road God met yet a third man crying and asked, “Why are you crying, my child?”

The man said, “God, I’m a writer.” and God sat down and cried with him.

A man by the name of Arthur Plotnik, who has written several books about writing and editing, said in his book Honk if You’re a Writer:

“Like normal people, writers enter the world screaming. But normal people subdue the incessant cries; writers keep them up....Writing itself might be defined as edited crying. Even a child’s whimpering contains the elements of a literary voice. After all, why do children cry? Out of agony, terror, impotence, rage, and nastiness — the very arsenal of mature authors. To succeed as a writer, the sniveling brat needs only discipline and a good agent. When children begin to polish their whining— ‘she has infinitely more chocolate than I’ — they may be uttering their first cries as authors” (p. 19).

He goes on to say, “My honking is an anguished outcry on behalf of all writers, because writing is an anguish better shared than borne in solitude to the grave. And the better shared, the better such anguish (including my own) is channeled into writing that makes the whole world sorry it didn’t discover you sooner” (p. 13-14).

But writing can serve a more useful function than cultivated whining. It can be downright productive, as John Grisham says: “The good thing about writing fiction is that you can get back at people. I’ve gotten back at lawyers, prosecutors, judges, law professors and politicians. I just line ’em up and shoot ’em.”

Seriously. Whether you write to vent, to create, to whine, to serve, to avenge, to explore—think of the possibilities, for fun if not necessarily for profit.


Jennie said...

Val, I love it!

Annette Lyon said...

This is great. I heard someone (Carolyn Campbell, I think?) once say that no experience is lost on a writer--it's all fodder.

Stephanie Black said...

Ha ha! I love this, Val!

Gale Sears said...

Dear Val,
So true and so funny! Thanks for brightening my morning!

Michele Ashman Bell said...

There is something so fulfilling and rewarding in being the creator behind characters and stories. Great post, Val. Really true!

Jeri Gilchrist said...

Excellent, Val! And so, so, true! :)