As literary controversies go, this is the granddaddy of them all: is writing even fun? Why of course, you say? Why else would I be doing it? Never mind the alcoholics and suicides. There’s parties and awards and private moments where you, for one second, wrote the perfect sentence. There’s the opportunity to communicate what you believe to everyone and see what they say. To lay out an argument and edit it. That’s what I believe about writing, and this is why I do it.
Philip Roth apparently didn’t think the whole thing was worth it. According to an encounter with a New York waiter/novelist, Roth thought writing was terrible work. And then Roth quit writing soon after and was damn happy. (Perhaps letting go of that whole Nobel Prize thing helps?) And then Elizabeth Gilbert, she of relentless optimism. self improvement, and globetrotting, was like, “no, no, writing is fun! How dare you, you cranky old man?”
This New Yorker article by Avi Steinberg lays out the difference between Roth and Gilbert, apart from the obvious, eloquently. So I’m not here to rehash that.
And you know the statistics and quotes as well as me. Kurt Vonnegut, a depressed writer himself, and one of the funniest, believed that writers were a naturally depressed lot. Bukowski, another cheerful soul, thought you shouldn’t be a writer unless you were consistently inches away from suicide. Not to mention unless we are Elizabeth Gilbert or lord save us, James Patterson, we’re inclined to starve. Really, what is the big deal about writing?