Joyce Carol Oates Writing Advice

Filed under: The Writing Process — joy at 9:29 am on Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I’m reading The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates right now. After a bad review for one of her books, she wrote the following:

If younger writers could anticipate what lies ahead after their years of arduous labor and their hopes and fantasies and sacrifices (if anyone still “sacrifices” anything for their art) … would they believe the effort was worth it? If it weren’t for the satisfaction of writing as an end in itself, apart even from the money involved, I wouldn’t advise anyone to write. Not at all. Therefore I’m at a loss about advising writers who are modestly gifted but who find writing very hard work, not really enjoyable. I really don’t know what to say. I look at them and think, But why do you want to writer if, in fact, you suffer so …? The rewards won’t compensate for the suffering. The “rewards” are so mixed, so ironic. Why do you want to write if you really don’t want to write?

This strikes me as true. Publishing is hard. Always has been, always will be. So the act of writing has to be important and enjoyable to the writer to make it worth it. I have seen other writers struggle like she is describing and I often wonder why they are forcing it. Why write if it is such a struggle? There are a lot of easier pursuits out there, that’s for sure.

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