In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.
First off, this quote kind of makes me want to write a story about a man who crosses the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. (What an image that brings up!)
But what this quote really does is give me that friendly reminder that writing isn’t something you should go into lightly.
And it doesn’t get any easier. I’m going to write my twentieth novel this summer, and I know it will be just as hard as every other novel I’ve written. I’m going to once again be spending long summer days indoors, in the dark, navigating the world of my new novel for hours at a time.
It’s extremely lonely. You’re by yourself most of the day, and you don’t really talk to anybody. When you do leave the house and go see your friends and family, the talking part noticeably comes with a bit more difficulty.
Because you’ve been so immersed in your amazing story and your fascinating characters that real life actually feels like the fiction sometimes, not the other way around.
It’s often hard when you’re in the midst of a new writing project to give real life your all. Even though when you’re by yourself all day you feel like you should be spending more time with other people. And then of course when you’re with those people, you want to go right back into the isolation of your writing room. Oh, the irony.
Yes, writing is lonely. Writing is difficult. Writing might not be the ideal life. It might not be the healthiest life.
But you know what? Do it anyway.
You’re going to struggle coming up with new ideas. Have trouble figuring out a basic outline to your latest story. Think for weeks and weeks about your characters and what makes them unique, what makes them tick.
Do it anyway.
You’re going to struggle in your writing from day one. You might stare at a blank page for an hour or longer, trying a bunch of new first sentences which you then quickly delete. You’ll enter week two, week three, in a state of total despair because the writing of your new novel isn’t matching what you envisioned in your head. It’s 10%, 20%, of the book you wanted to write.
Please do it anyway.
You’re going to have days when you want to quit. Days where the words just aren’t coming. You’ll be halfway through the novel but want to abandon it and move onto something else. You’ll feel at times that you totally suck and that you have no business writing. You’ll want to pull your hair out and pound your fist against the wall and scream at the top of your lungs.
Trust me, I’m telling you — keep writing, anyway.
Because every writer feels like this.
Every writer has moments of self-doubt in the drafting process, in the revising process. In the before, during, and after of writing. To have no doubt at all and think you’re the greatest writer in history is not a place you want to be. That kind of thinking will get you nowhere.
You should doubt yourself to some extent. You should question certain choices you’ve made. You should occasionally leave your writing desk feeling frustrated, even angry.
It happens to all of us. It’s just a part of the process.
What’s most important is that you keep going. Keep writing. Finish things. Revise your latest novel over and over and make it the best it can be.
If the idea of sitting in dark rooms for years on end creating new stories and characters doesn’t interest you, then by all means, do something else. If the idea of writing compels you, though, you need to give yourself over to it, and remember always that it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be lonely.
But at the same time, it’s so very worth it. The writer’s life is a great life, never forget that.
Because no matter how difficult and lonely it gets, you’re creating stories. You’re making art. You’re opening up whole new worlds to other readers through your creative imagination.
And there’s nothing more fulfilling that.