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Thread: How hard is writing a good book?

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    How hard is writing a good book?

    I just finished a sports biography called Engage, which was about a rugby player who broke his neck. It was written by a sports writer called Paul Kimmage, who used to be a professional cyclist. I liked his book about his professional cycling days, but he has not written many books. In the epilogue he wrote:

    In 1989, during a blizzard at the Tour of Italy, my hands were so cold one day that I urinated on them. In 1986, I watched the leader of the Tour de France ride by one day with diarrhoea pouring down his legs. But it didn't compare with the pain of writing: none of it hurt like writing a book, and I swore after my last that I would never suffer again.


    I was a little surprised about that. I wouldn't have thought anything was as hard as being a professional cyclist. I wouldn't have thought writing was quite that hard.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    I think Orwell had the measure of it in his Why I Write, when he wrote:

    "Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention."
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    Registered User Poetaster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    I think Orwell had the measure of it in his Why I Write, when he wrote:

    "Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention."
    I always loved that quote.
    'So - this is where we stand. Win all, lose all,
    we have come to this: the crisis of our lives'

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    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    I was a little surprised about that. I wouldn't have thought anything was as hard as being a professional cyclist. I wouldn't have thought writing was quite that hard.
    I should think it depends on both the author and the book. Some writers find that one book almost writes itself, while the next is a hellish struggle. For some it comes naturally, others have to force it. My general impression is that the life of a writer is pretty hard and miserable. Roald Dahl called it 'pure hell', and even Flaubert (or was it Nabokov?) said writing was like having the flesh peeled off his body.

    The bitter truth is that the vast majority of people, including those who love literature and read a lot, are talentless mediocrities. I once heard a publisher say that most published books are pretty mediocre, or even downright poor. And even the good, established writers are pretty average when compared to, say, Nabokov, or Evelyn Waugh, or Joseph Conrad. Even Antony Burgess said that every time he sat down to write he felt desperate and depressed and wondered if he should bother because, no matter how hard he tried, he would never come near the language of James Joyce. Attempting to write a book, especially a long one, is an incredibly arrogant thing to do. Before you try, you should be pretty damn sure you have something original to write and that you have the talent to pull it off. There are so many great books out there, enough to occupy the average person for several lifetimes, that you need superhuman confidence to believe people should be reading you instead of Dickens or Shakespeare.

    Still, having said that I'd commit murder in exchange for the ability to write great novels or poems.
    Last edited by WICKES; 06-02-2016 at 04:34 PM.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WICKES View Post
    I should think it depends on both the author and the book. Some writers find that one book almost writes itself, while the next is a hellish struggle. For some it comes naturally, others have to force it. My general impression is that the life of a writer is pretty hard and miserable. Roald Dahl called it 'pure hell', and even Flaubert (or was it Nabokov?) said writing was like having the flesh peeled off his body.

    The bitter truth is that the vast majority of people, including those who love literature and read a lot, are talentless mediocrities. I once heard a publisher say that most published books are pretty mediocre, or even downright poor. And even the good, established writers are pretty average when compared to, say, Nabokov, or Evelyn Waugh, or Joseph Conrad. Even Antony Burgess said that every time he sat down to write he felt desperate and depressed and wondered if he should bother because, no matter how hard he tried, he would never come near the language of James Joyce. Attempting to write a book, especially a long one, is an incredibly arrogant thing to do. Before you try, you should be pretty damn sure you have something original to write and that you have the talent to pull it off. There are so many great books out there, enough to occupy the average person for several lifetimes, that you need superhuman confidence to believe people should be reading you instead of Dickens or Shakespeare.

    Still, having said that I'd commit murder in exchange for the ability to write great novels or poems.
    I am not won over by any of those writers. Conrad always kills off his heroes in some meaningless and futile way, which I am prepared to accept in one or two books, but not every flipping one. I have completed three Waugh books but only liked one, Scoop. I have only read Lolita of Nabokov's, which I thought was good, but I lost track of what was happening in the final third, which I am sure was not as good as the rest of the book anyway. Maybe this says more about my lack of taste and intelligence than their talent as writers, but speak as you find.

    I think there are a lot of decent books out there, but trying to find shelf space in even a very large book shop is hard, and you have to be pretty special for anyone to read you thirty years from now.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    dark desire dark desire's Avatar
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    I think it should be pretty darn hard. Otherwise the book that comes out will be just . . . not worth reading. Nietzsche said in Thus Spake Zarathustra:

    Another century of readers—and spirit itself will stink.
    Every one being allowed to learn to read, ruineth in the long run not only writing but also thinking.

    He also said in the same passage:

    Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.

    A piece of writing should move the reader and not all readers. I think a select niche of readers will be enough. In fact, these days, I tend to avoid writers who go on to becoming immediate best-sellers of some sort. Good writers should be visionaries. They should be understood only by later generations. To cook up a great deal of lies and to do it in an interesting manner, not just for personal joy of writing but also for your readers, and that in the service of some kind of a truth - is a herculean effort. What I find difficult is to keep alive the motivation to keep going. I think the modernists were lucky that they could just go on and on about their despair and angst. Writers in this age have to find their own luxuries and freedoms. It has become rather difficult to do so. So much and of such great variety has already been written!
    Being taken literally, is like being sent to hell LITERALLY.

    “It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.”
    ― Oscar Wilde

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