The Joys & Perils of Writing

Years ago I naively thought that I could develop some sort of a writing career. Whether it was full-time or part-time, paid or unpaid, wasn't the issue. The important thing was having the freedom to put my thoughts, my opinions, and my feelings on paper. If someone else enjoyed reading it, that would be great. If I got a little money, it would be useful. And if anyone had told me how disillusioned I would become, I would not have believed it.

Well, we all know the "best laid plans of mice and men" sometimes go awry. There are many reasons for this. Some things, like working for a living, or raising a family, are personal choices. You can adjust to, and work around these things, and they increase your experience and understanding of human nature.

Other things are harder to overcome and not always in your control. A lack of understanding when you need quiet, uninterrupted privacy to concentrate on the work in progress. No support or encouragement for your writing and the impossibility of getting published are stumbling blocks that severely hamper the creative process, and diminish your hopes of success.

All of these factors have been present in my life at various times, but the ones you can't control are always the most damaging. Constant interruptions will break your train of thought. You get frustrated as you struggle in vain to keep your mind on track. Sometimes, you actually get confused about what it is you're trying to do. You might even get so upset that you simply throw it all down, intending never to write another word.

Writers are, by nature, very sensitive individuals. A lack of emotional support or encouragement undermines your confidence. It leaves you feeling inadequate, unsure, and worthless. You start to doubt and question your talent and ability. Finally, you persuade yourself that it's all just a waste of time and energy.

Impersonal rejection letters, or total lack of response, from publishers always feel like a slap in the face. Getting through what are virtually closed doors appears to be similar to butting your head against a brick wall. The only thing you get for your efforts is a king-sized tension headache! Yet, for some strange reason, you persevere.

Maybe there is a glimmer of hope. You get something printed because you send an item to a publisher who just happens to have an opening. Perhaps because material from their regular sources does not fill all the space available in a specific edition. You feel good for a while but it doesn't last. The doors are closed once again because your name isn't well known. To add insult to injury, someone might even use your work without giving you credit for it.

So, when you consider the pitfalls, the prejudice against unknown writers, and the agony, is writing worth the effort? Many times I have thought it was not. Although the desire to write is compulsive, almost addictive, it just doesn't seem worth the hassle. Why put yourself through all the negative, painful emotions just to put your personal opinions on paper for others to read and maybe criticize? I'll tell you why.

Writing comes from the heart, from deep inside yourself. It is very personal. Putting your thoughts into words is like baring your soul to the world. Writing is scary because it makes you vulnerable. Then again, your writing has the ability to rekindle memories and elicit smiles. It can bring either pleasure or pain to someone else.

That's because writing is a gift, a God-given talent that not everyone has. And it's not all fun and games. Honesty, integrity, tact, and consideration for the feelings of others are all part of a writer's responsibility, and not to be taken lightly. I think writers should also maintain high standards of decency and morality.

Foul language is not necessary just because you hear it on the street. Would you tie an anchor to your waist and jump overboard just because a bunch of other people did it? I think not. And does foul language really make your writing any better? Shakespeare didn't write with a foul pen and look how long his works have lasted. Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain all did fine without such language. Many people find it very offensive.

Honesty is vital and so is accuracy. Remember though, "the pen is mightier than the sword." While a certain amount of factual information is necessary, many sordid, explicit details are better left unwritten if they could hurt someone, especially children. Why perpetuate someone else's pain? Does writing for shock value, or sensationalism, really make anyone feel good? Think about it.

It all boils down to one thing. You can't get published unless you are well-known. But how do you become well-known unless you're published? It's a never-ending circle. Every now and then, someone makes a breakthrough, not because their work is more brilliant than the next person, but because their topic is more controversial or sensational. I see this as a sad testimonial to the state of the literary world.

People are influenced by what they see, hear, and read, more than you may realize. Whether it be in print, audio or visual form, the written word is the basis. A writer, or a team of writers, is behind all these forms of communication, information, and what is supposed to be entertainment. Are we putting ideas into people's heads? Are they good ideas, or are they destructive? Writers have a great deal of power but it should be used carefully.

I realize that many people, especially writers, will disagree with me. That's okay. We are all entitled to our own opinions. Everyone's thoughts are of equal importance. However, I don't really consider myself a writer. I am no longer naive enough to dream about any form of writing career. Maybe my morals and convictions are too strict for these modern times.

Perhaps I should write the intimate details of sexual abuse, or the explicit methods used by a serial killer, or use language foul enough to make Satan blush. Then those same doors which are closed to me now would swing open wider than the pearly gates of Heaven will on Judgement Day. Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I know which entrance I want to walk through. And that's why I will probably never be a famous writer.

No, I do not have a "holier than thou" attitude. What I do believe is that there should be room for all types of writers, the known and the unknown, the traditional and the modern. Who knows if someone has real talent if that person doesn't get a chance? Not all writers want to use the same kind of language. Not all writers want to write sensational, shock stories. But if the work is good, don't they all deserve an equal opportunity?

© Fay Herridge
Published in The Newfoundland Herald, July 1999

Non-fiction 1

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