February 21st, 2011 / 9:39 am
Random & Snippets

Does suffering over a manuscript make it more “authentic” or “better”? What about taking a long time to write it? If yes, why? If not, why not? Help me destroy some exhausted and exhausting writer myths, friends. Please.


  1. zusya

      What exactly do you mean by “suffering”?

      You can’t rush inspiration, but if you think you’re taking too long to complete a manuscript, find ways to increase your productivity?

      I’m assuming this is something you’ve been working on for a long time?

  2. lily hoang

      No, actually, but this is something I worry about a lot, only in reverse. I worry that because I write too quickly, it’s somehow not as “good.” By “it” I don’t mean the finished product. I mean that the process is too easy. When I write, there is no suffering. Sometimes, I worry that I should be suffering. When I write (which is only once a year for an extended stretch), it comes out easily and quickly. Sometimes, I worry it should be harder and take longer. I can’t even believe I’m complaining about this. I will slap myself now. But only once and not very hard.

  3. mdbell79

      Of course not. The process is about the writer. All the reader needs is the product of that process. I don’t care how my favorite books were written: I care that they exist, as they are. But the writer probably cares very much about how his novel was written, because he was presumably changed by the experience, at the very least as a writer, if in no other way.

      I hope, when I am done writing the book I’m writing, that the product will be worthwhile to other people, that all the hard work will pay off. I can already say that regardless of that, the year-plus I’ve spent working on it has been valuable for me, and so will the months and years still to come. “Suffering” over my manuscript has made ME better, has pushed me to stretch and grow, to figure out how to do this thing that I could not have done when I started. That’s enough, at least for now.

  4. lily hoang

      Matt Bell saves my day!

  5. lily hoang

      Hey matt, remember how we were going to write a book together? O, yeah, let’s get back to that sometime. You make me smarter.

  6. mdbell79

      Of course, and yes, we should. But now I’m suspicious that you just want someone to do the suffering!

  7. lily hoang

      That’s just the way I roll: watching. (Wow, that sounds very creepy.)

  8. thom bunn

      I feel like it’s good to be able to write quickly, but the suffering comes when editing, and having to reinsert yourself into the process.

      That’s interesting, lily, that you write “once a year”. Is it a specific time of year, or do you kind of build up your reserves/ need to write, and then find time for it?

  9. lily hoang

      Hi Thom, I only write during the summer. I can’t find the sustained focus during the academic year. So, for the eight months of an academic cycle, I work on collaborations and short stories (if someone asks for one). And in the summer, I use all my creative reserves on a full-length ms.

  10. AmyWhipple

      I try to be patient with how long it takes me to think things through before I write/revise, which isn’t about authenticity or better, just that it takes me a long time to think. Part of the frustration, I think, is that I write essays and many of my friends write flash, so they’re boom, boom, boom producing all over the place, and I am definitely not, which makes me feel badly, but no one’s making me feel that way other than me (I think).

      Here’s an exhausted writer myth I can’t get behind: that tortured at the screen/typewriter/notepad writer. I just don’t get the writerly self-flagellation thing. Yes, writing is work (especially if it’s your job), and it’s at times frustrating or difficult or whatever, but that myth seems to be a perpetual state of existence for some writers. Basically, I treat writing like insomnia. If you can’t sleep, you’re supposed to get out of bed and do something else. If the writing isn’t happening, I get up and do something else. Clear head without the torture.

  11. thom bunn

      Honestly, what do I know, but that sounds like a good cycle to me. It makes sense that you write “quickly”, esp if you’ve had the rest of the year to generate stuff.

  12. NLY

      The physical act of writing is very quick for me, the mental very long.

  13. Joseph Young

      i don’t think picasso suffered much and he made like 50000 works. then again, e. munch. Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night.

  14. deadgod

      The glamorous image of ‘tormented writer’ indicates tormented people who write, rather than something intrinsically tormenting about writing itself. Relaxed people write, resigned people, intense-but-calm, joyous, diligent people – really, every level and kind of easy or disturbed heart (that doesn’t cancel ‘literacy’) can be found in a large enough population of writers, no? Tormented people also don’t write.

  15. Anonymous

      Suffering comes in many flavors Lily! Fret not.

  16. Anonymous

      I don’t understand what you mean by “authentic.” Authentic is a serial killer.

      Or do you mean authentic to the public? Because that’s fucking silly.

  17. alanrossi

      there’s a decent tedx talk about this, where the author of eat, pray, love discusses how our culture stereotypes genius as typically people who are suffering/alcoholic/depressed/etc. i don’t care for eat, pray, love but her talk makes reasonable sense.

  18. karl taro

      if I’m writing too slowly it usually means there is a problem in the story. 500 to 1000 words a day is a healthy pace and means I am not encountering plot problems. (yes, I write stories with plots.) if I’m really slowing down it’s because there is something not working. Then I usually abandon the story for a while and work on something else. with books, there are patches where it gets very slow, and you sort of push through those for a while and wait for it to get better. or stop and try something else again. i write six days a week.

  19. zusya

      I was thinking I probably should have offered more in terms of pragmatic encouragement. So: When I get down like this, I typically ask people to read what I’ve got and listen intently. Thriving on criticism both good and bad works for me. If you think you’re comfortable in your methods, find a way to put yourself in uncharted waters.

  20. Traynor

      This makes me think of the famous (and not, I think, overstated) divide between many first and second novels. First novels are labored over for 5, 6, 7, 8 years or more, establishing the author. Then, a year or two later, the author’s second book is released, whipped out in a frenzy of newfound confidence and desperation to capitalize on what remains of of the literary buzz his or her first book created.

  21. drew kalbach

      don’t worry, lily. you don’t need to suffer for your art. that’s just some absurd myth perpetuate by some artists to make it seem as if our craft were something other than craft, something more. if anything, your writing should help you suffer less. if it does anything at all for your physical person, which it just might not.

  22. Lincoln Michel

      It really is true that writers all write different Some people type out a mess of nonsense in a day and then slowly edit it down into something good. Other writers take a slower time writing a piece, editing as they go, but then don’t do much revision past the first draft.

      As Matt says, all that matters is the writing on the page as far as the reader is concerned.

      That said, I do read a lot of work these days, especially in the submission queue, that read like the piece was written and edited as quickly as possible. Writers should be encouraged to use a strong quality control filter.

  23. jesusangelgarcia
  24. jesusangelgarcia

      I’m with much of what’s being said here, Lily. Bottom line: suffering is overrated.

      I first-drafted badbadbad in 13 weeks, then revised in (almost fun) waves over the next three years. Parts were tough to write due to the intensity of the content, the channeling thing, if you will (I didn’t personally want to go there, necessarily). But getting the actual words in the best order on the page and all the structural elements in place was less brutal than past efforts b/c I simply told myself going in that I wouldn’t slave over every word in this initial draft. The process wound up being much more pleasurable than past efforts at large-scale writing. I’m curious how the next book will go.

      Maybe you just have a lucid mind. Consider yourself blessed!

  25. Tony O'Neill

      personally speaking if i’m suffering over a manuscript, it usually means it’s not good. the best writing should come out easily, i feel.

      writing should be the easy part. its everything else that’s suffering.

  26. Tony O'Neill

      personally speaking if i’m suffering over a manuscript, it usually means it’s not good. the best writing should come out easily, i feel.

      writing should be the easy part. its everything else that’s suffering.

  27. Joseph Young

      huh, i’d never heard that song before. unfortunately, it only confirms my opinion of the doors…but, oh well, thanks, jag!

  28. jesusangelgarcia

      Really? Hmmm… well, Morrison did steal his lyrics from the best.

  29. John Minichillo

      Not to be completely discounted. The language is a bitch. It will make it difficult for you to say what you are trying to say. This takes rewriting and editing and rewriting and editing, and this takes time. This is universally understood and what all the suffering writers are talking about.

      There are times, however – some of the more famous works come to mind – when a book came to a writer like a gift. Was a joy to work on and the pages came easily.

      But this fast writing can only be understood as a gift in the context of all the other work that didn’t come so easily. And this writer probably wouldn’t have been able to work quickly without the experience of all the other work that took a whole lot of time.

  30. Jerome Meyers

      I’m new here. Hi. I actually found this site through the “James Joyce does not exist” topic which discussed the apparent decline in experimental literature. I find interesting parallels between that and your question, Lily.

  31. James Yeh

      Hey, this is pretty good. But what about the people who write, and write well, lucidly, heart-breakingly and sublimely? Are they also these easy-hearted, joyous people? Or perhaps some other kind?

      I’d venture to say perhaps there’s something tormenting not about the writing itself, but about the consciousness and awareness that is necessary to not merely write, but to write well.

  32. James Yeh

      And I’ve seen some of those same submissions…

      I will say that just because something is written quickly, doesn’t mean that it has to necessarily be bad, careless, or sloppy. But I think sitting on pieces is a good idea, regardless of how quickly (or non-quickly) a piece is produced. It’s like the opposite of what John Cage said about if something’s boring after 1 minute, try looking at it for 2, then 4, then 8…pretty soon you’ll find it’s not boring. Well, in this case, it’s like, if something’s interesting, try reading it after 1 day, then 2, then 4, then 8…pretty soon it’s boring. Unless it’s not. Then maybe you’ve got something.

  33. John Domini

      All I can add is, to judge from Flaubert’s letters, the writing of BOVARY was torture for him. But then, to judge from the reports of people like his niece, who played in his studio while he was writing, he seemed relaxed & good company. Come to think, the man also liked to say (more or less): “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

  34. Scrivener001

      I once heard that for change, Pain is mandatory, Suffering optional. I reckon writing is change.