The Ditchwalk Book Club has been reading and discussing Rust Hills’ seminal work, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. Announcement here. Overview here. Tag here.
The final section of Hill’s book is also the most personal. Departing from the twin subjects of fiction and craft that bound the rest of the work, Hills writes of his own experience with nonfiction and of the eternal self-abuse that is any kind of authorship.
If you are serious about making writing an ongoing part of you life, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself sitting in a dusty corner, staring across the room at your desk, wondering if you’ve lost your mind. You’re going to experience a crisis of faith that has no bottom. You’re going to think that you’re doing it all wrong while every other writer is doing it with ease.
When you do, this chapter will remind you how wrong you are:
If the way my mind works when I’m trying to write has any resemblance to the way real writers’ minds work, then I pity them all. When I have time to write the ideas aren’t there — or if the ideas, then not the words. Forcing myself to put the words on paper helps not at all: insights become platitudes as phrased when under self-imposed duress. You see?!
I’ve long been thankful that someone had the guts to admit that writing is a nightmare. Not a sexy, drunken-binge nightmare or a death-tempting, drug-addled nightmare or an artistically obsessed, relationship-killing nightmare, but a self-imposed, lost-at-sea nightmare. Because the romantic, angst-ridden writing process portrayed in the movies, and often by authors themselves, is a fraud. Writing is hard even when it’s going well, and most of the time it’s not going well.
Hills ends the chapter in a two-page-long, single-paragraph monologue that I reread whenever I feel like banging my head on my desk or taking an axe to my computer. And every time I read it I laugh and am reminded that I am not alone.
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction your success will be determined by your ability to merge multiple, fragmented lines of thought into a coherent and focused whole. Whether writing about the actions of imaginary characters or addressing a real-world subject you’re going to lean heavily on reason and logic to find your way, and sooner or later you will get lost. At that moment the best thing you can do for your sanity is remind yourself that what you’re trying to do is really, really hard, and all the more so if you’re trying to do it well.
As a fiction writer I find Rust Hills’ book to be an invaluable aid. As a writer I find this chapter to be soul-sustaining.
Writing is a solitary pursuit that routinely destroys good people. I want you to have your dreams but I don’t want them to break you. Whenever you run aground, this chapter will make you laugh and remind you that you are not alone.
— Mark Barrett