Writing Your Way to Utter Misery

by Bill Murphy Jr.
Originally Published: 

There is no happiness in writing. There may be some happiness in having written, but that’s all in the past tense, the way you might be happy to have made a big play in a high school football game, but didn’t enjoy the actual process of working your butt off in practice to get there, or proud to have graduated from law school but hated every second of the experience.

Happiness? Whoever wrote that has never spent hours staring at a blank page on a computer screen, with not only the fear that whatever string of words you line up there won’t be worthy, but that they won’t be good enough for that sonofabitch editor, and he won’t accept it, and then you won’t get paid, and you’ll wind up shorting your credit card bill to pay the mortgage, and the only positive thing that might result is the replenishment of the well of anxiety and pain from which some creative writing teacher once told you to draw.

Whoever wrote that has never stared into the even darker place in which you’ve written thousands and thousands and thousands of words, only to realize that they aren’t actually the right words, and that you have to go back to the beginning, and all the time you spent sitting there will have been wasted. And then you calculate the opportunity cost and the friends you could have gone out with and the books you could have read and the television you could have watched, and you realize now you’ll be doing the whole thing over again anyway.

I’m willing to bet whoever wrote that is one of those people who knew from the earliest moments that she wanted to be a writer, and never entertained anything else, and thus never sat there staring out the window ducking an editor’s call and realizing that if she’d been a cop or a firefighter or stayed in the damn Army she’d be retired by now and sitting on a beach and maybe writing her book about exactly what she wanted to write without all the pressure.

Want to know who tried to write his way to happiness? Edgar Allen Poe. He was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore and died at the age of 40. Jane Austen? No fame at all during her own life, died at 41. Her epitaph didn’t even mention her writing. Ernest Hemingway? Drank his face off every day for decades before committing suicide—alone, dejected, and depressed. Mark Twain? A solid 15 years of depression, followed by his death in 1910.

You could probably do just about anything else other than writing and wind up happier. I know a lot of depressed writers. I hardly know any guys who do drywall and sheetrock who wind up alone and crying in their beer—at least not because of their line of work.

And don’t even get me started on being an editor.

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