Friday, February 27, 2009

You Might be an Writer If...

I have often heard it said that the mark of a true artist is his/her level of suffering. I scoffed. Artists...suffering for their work?...Come on. They paint. Or write. Or draw. Act. But suffer? Isn't that being a little melodramatic?

Oh, ye of little faith.

You might be a writer if...the act of writing causes you pain. Physical or mental. Probably both.

This is a rather recent revelation of mine. It's all come about due to my present work-in-progress, Pelorus Jack. It's a longer piece, just over 400 manuscript pages. It makes my dissertation - at 250 pages - feel like a novella.

I suppose working on a larger project is likely to bring out the worst characteristics in any human being regardless of job description. But pain?

Oh, yes, pain.

I'd like to blame it on the imminent approach of 40, only two weeks away, but I don't think it's an age thing. I think it's an art thing.

I'd noticed lately that I'd begun referring to my days spent revising as a marathon. That's what it feels like. Granted, I don't leave my desk but for the occasional bathroom break or to ferret around for some sort of food to sustain me, but I feel as weathered by the end of the day as if I'd run a good 26 miles. I wouldn't call this pain. It's more discomfort, mental exhaustion.

Pain, however, came last week. Real, physical pain. When I played violin - which I did semi-professionally for a number of years - I managed to give my tendinitis in my upper right shoulder. It's all that bowing. Well, I hadn't experienced that pain since I stopped teaching and playing about 9 years ago. Yet, last week, it was back. Cause? Sitting at my desk for umpteen hours, straight back, arms outstretched, typing like my life depends on it. This has got to be some sort of new record. I've actually managed to injure myself without leaving the comforts of my desk.

I'm not alone, though. And I derive comfort from that. Renoir, who painted well into his 80s or 90s, developed arthritis so badly, he could barely hold a brush anymore. Okay, I'm not Renoir, not even close, but does the fact that I've managed to injure myself via my art mean I'm getting close??

As for the mental anguish writing causes, my last piece, Dragon Wishes pushed that pain to its critical point. The story is emotionally about losing someone beloved, working through the pain, and learning how to open up and love again and be loved. When my character hits rock bottom and has to either open herself up or fall into the blackness of despair, I was right there with her falling through that raw pain. I began to have a sort of emotional Pavlovian response when I got even close to editing or revising that section of the piece. I got depressed. Moody. My kids took off for the neighbors. My husband bought chocolate. It wasn't pretty. It broke my heart and mended it a million times over, but it was what had to be done. I suffered.

In all honesty, it's no wonder so many artists - writers, painters, actors - "experiment" with medication. I'm not headed down that road - unless you count copius amoutns of chocolate - but my mind and body have definitely suffered for my art.

Does that make me good....yet???


PJ Hoover said...

The suffering is so worth it, isn't it!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Ah, it is suffering, all the rejection and revision and revision and rejection. But I'm glad to hear you're still cracking at it!