Why do storytellers tell stories? There are as many reasons as there are writers. Here’s a sampling.
One thing I’ve never been comfortable with, however, is a storyteller — and particularly a successful storyteller (however you gauge success) — who talks about how difficult, unbearable, agonizing, hopeless, unrewarding, soul-destroying, righteous, brutal, painful, exhausting or heroic the job of storytelling is.
Because it is all that, but only when you either don’t know or have forgotten what it’s like to earn a living by breaking your back in a field or over a shovel, or are too unimaginative to grasp what it would be like work for twenty years in a toxic factory that was killing you at minimum wage. (My own temporary and self-inflicted trial.)
As thinking tasks go, telling stories is hard even if you’re good at it from the get-go. But being able to do it at all means you have gifts that many people (maybe most) will never know. As a rule, I entertain complaints about the agony of living up to one’s gifts as much as I entertain complaints about the agony of suffering with one’s riches, which is to say never.
To whatever extent writers tend to be a little funny in the head (take that any way you like), it’s no defense of your own whining to point to the writer next to you who happens to be manic-depressive or full-on stark-raving loony. Mental illness in writing, like LSD, may produce unique works, but it’s no indicator that storytelling is the root cause of the illness, let alone damaging to healthy people.
As a storyteller I’ve been at the point of banging my head on a desk more than once simply to provide relief from the craft problems I’ve been wrestling with. But that just goes with the territory in the same way that knee surgery goes with being an offensive lineman in American football. If you don’t want to deal with such things as a storyteller, I suggest you write greeting cards. Or better yet donate your life to helping people less fortunate than yourself.
When you complain about how tough your life is as a storyteller, and particularly as a professional storyteller, not only are you complaining about not having to do something truly grueling in order to earn a living (like, say, everybody else) but you’re also using the tools of your trade (words) to curry sympathy. How hard is that, really?
Fortunately, the cure for this tendency, should it strike you, is straightforward. First, talk to other writers in private about the struggles you’re facing, because they’re real. Every job has obstacles, and your frustrations are legitimate.
Second, buy yourself a spade and dig a fifty-foot trench, two feet wide by two feet deep. If your yard isn’t that big, make it a twenty-five foot trench. If your are older, or have some infirmities, or are not in particularly good condition, ten feet will do just fine. And obviously if it’s raining, or snowing, or so hot outside that you cannot imagine how the roofers across the street can nail shingles all day without dropping dead, then a good stiff fifteen minutes imagining yourself digging out a two-foot cube earth with your silky-soft hands will probably do the trick.
— Mark Barrett