A Writer’s Life

When friends learn that I write mysteries, they often ask what it’s like. I suspect they imagine me curled up in an armchair in a cozy library, surrounded by hardbound copies of the classics, fingertips on a laptop keyboard effortlessly creating pithy phrases and creative plot twists.

Alas, it is not so. The cozy library, at least, is a possibility. The effortless creation, not so much.

So what is it really like? It’s hard, it’s frustrating and I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

One comfort for me in the more frustrating moments is knowing I’m not alone. Two of my favorite books on writing not only give constructive advice, but reassure me by reminding me that all writers struggle with their writing.

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird talks about her writing insecurities in the context of her personal struggles as a single mother: “Your work as a writer… will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old…Toddlers can make you feel as if you have violated some archaic law in their personal Koran and you should die, infidel. Other times they’ll reach out and touch you like adoring grandparents…”

Stephen King’s On Writing is essentially an autobiography, in which he admits his weaknesses (alcohol) and failures (numerous early rejections). When he was writing Carrie, he said: “If I ever came close to despairing about my future as a writer, it was then. I could see myself thirty years on, wearing the same shabby tweed coats with patches on the elbows, potbelly rolling over my Gap khakis from too much beer… and, in my desk drawer, six or seven unfinished manuscripts which I would take out and tinker with from time to time, usually when drunk.”

I’ve had moments when I question why I write. But there are times when a great idea that’s been knocking around my head finally becomes words on the page. And those times make it all worthwhile.

Now back to the armchair in my library.


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