I browse a lot of websites about writing. After reading over and over again how difficult it is to write, I start to believe it.
But I just finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. It’s an excellent book filled with awesome humor nuggets. I admire Walter. He doesn’t have an MFA. He’s funny. The book included an interview with him when he talked about work ethic and difficulty:
“I grew up in a very blue-collar family and came at fiction through newspapers, so that daily work ethic is how I still approach writing. This doesn’t work, move to that, that doesn’t work, move to this. My dad worked for forty years in an aluminum plant. I don’t think he ever got “aluminum block.” One grandfather was killed when a crane fell on him, the other when he was stretching fence on our family cattle ranch, so I’m not likely to ever complain that writing is hard work.”
This reminded me of Joyce Carol Oates. She’s a famously hard worker. Fifty novels. Fifty. Writes eight hours a day. She grew up in this environment:
“I think that my particular family background suffused me with a sense of wanting, needing, being rewarded by working virtually all the time. My father was a factory worker who had part-time jobs to support our family, and my mother was an excellent homemaker, seamstress, and gardener. To laze about without a project was just not anything we did in my family, ever.”
These are two successful writers that I emulate. I’m encouraged by the fact that I grew up splitting wood with a 6-pound maul. I planted thousands of Christmas trees with a dibble bar. I swept chimneys. I slaughtered hogs. Maybe, there is hope that I can turn my hard labor past into success at the keyboard.
My son came up to me recently and said, “I know you’re proud that you killed pigs to make money, but I think I’d rather try to make money with my music.” I said something incredibly wise and supportive. He walked away with a path to pocket money that didn’t involve sore muscles. But part of me thought he should get dirt and blood under his fingernails.
But then, he goes and works harder than most grown men I know at that keyboard. From the basement, I can’t tell if that’s a recording of Bill Evans or that Chandler kid. I tried to inspire. But it turns out I’m inspired by others. By my own.
Perfection is elusive in all the arts. In life. Striving for the impossible is challenging, sure.
After I killed pigs all day, I threw away my mud and shit and blood covered clothes. I don’t have to throw away my clothes after I write a story. I don’t have to walk 15 miles to get clean water. I don’t have to gather firewood to cook my meals.
There are lots of hard things in this world. But I’ve had it with hearing that writing is one of them.