I have been maintaining a Twitter account as part of my duty to my writers and publishers co-operative (@truenorthwrite), and I came across two things that on the surface seem to be quite contradictory:
Ever since I started writing full time, pangs of shame prickle me at times, because I feel like I'm having so much fun, I don't deserve it.— Ksenia Anske (@kseniaanske) July 11, 2013
Compare this to Writing Rules #3 and #10 of superstar British author Zadie Smith:
3. Don't romanticise your "vocation". You can either write good sentences or you can't. There is no "writer's lifestyle". All that matters is what you leave on the page.
10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.
Is writing fun? Or does it ultimately make you sad?
The juxtaposition reminds me of a time when I found out that a church acquaintance was working on a novel. "It's fun!" he said.
Or the other time after I reviewed a book for the newspaper and was curious about the author's personal story. In an interview, he said that during the drafting process for the book he got out of bed every day eager and excited to work on it.
Then there are people like David Foster Wallace, who, when asked what he would be doing during a certain period of time, replied, "[W]rite an hour a day and spend eight hours a day biting my knuckle and worrying about not writing."
Now, in my experience, writing is not fun.
There are times when I enjoy writing or at least enjoy having written. But the process of writing is often difficult for me. That is, if I am trying to write something good, or lasting, or something that others will think is well-written, then the words and the revision don't come easily.
And I do sometimes believe, like Zadie Smith, that I have not done my best, that I never can.
My stance towards writing is similar to that of "literary" authors.
"Literary" writing, that which pretends to excellence and significance, is often thought of as "the best" writing. "Literary" authors (such as Zadie Smith and David Foster Wallace) work their tails off, sweating blood for the truth.
They don't step back from their laptops and exclaim, "This is fun!"
But are "literary" writers any different from other working writers?
"Genre" authors-- romance, mystery, thriller-- write fast. Dean Wesley Smith recently ghost-wrote a 70,000 word novel in ten days. They are not interested in significance. They want to tell a story and they want to tell it well.
Do they have fun? Maybe they do. Dean Wesley Smith often ends his posts with "have fun."
But an author who is writing 7,000 words a day probably doesn't have time to notice whether he is having fun or not. All that matters is what is on the page.
So, it would follow that working writers, vocational writers, don't worry about or think about having fun while they write. They don't stop in the middle of a paragraph and say, "What fun I'm having!"
At the same time, they would not want to do anything else. Their work is perhaps, not fun, but feeds them, and if it were not trite-sounding to say so, gives them joy.
I felt very much like Ksenia Anske when I was thirty years old. I loved writing, but I had the sense that it was somehow cheating to do it. That is a neurotic thing to think.
I got over my shame about writing as a fun lifestyle when I was working on my online Greek mythology course. That was a full time job, and the only time I have ever been employed full time as a writer.
And it was dang hard.
I never worked so hard in my life.
And loved my job more.
So, writers one and all out there, have fun. Don't be ashamed. And know that if you do want to write something good-- something that others will step back from and applaud, whether it's literary, genre, or whatever-- you will spend a fair amount of time not even concerned about whether you're having fun.
And that's all to the good.