Why am I doing such an eccentric thing as writing? Is it just undigested neurosis? Why spend all day in a room, in the company of a bunch of people who don’t really exist? What good does it do the world? Isn’t it unhealthy? Why waste the paper? Every writer has such thoughts from time to time, and to know that others have had them too is reassuring: I am not the only one who has viewed the page with loathing. Not only that, but there’s no obvious positive correlation between good writing and commercial success – good does not equal profitable – but on the other hand, there isn’t a negative one – profitable does not equal bad. It’s reassuring to know that anyone who’s kept at it over time has written a few clunkers. And sometimes – not always, but sometimes – the writer knows quite well which ones those are. But look: the clunkers are survivable, we find in these accounts of writing lives, because after some defeating piece that, despite endless rewriting, never quite came right, there will be a clear masterwork. And that too is very encouraging.
But above all, writers – who are alone so much of the time – realise through these interviews that they are really not alone. Others have also doubted and blocked and messed up; others have been poor and neglected; others have been dragged into literary bun-fights and been trashed in the press; others have kept going and overcome obstacles and persevered. Young writers read the Paris Review interviews the way a previous generation read The Pilgrim’s Progress: this, then, is the way, bestrewn with dangers and temptations, and over there are the monsters.
There are rewards and pleasures too, moments of glee: for writing has its joys as well as its sorrows. If not, why would anyone do it?
The joys and sorrows of writing