Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Don't Kill Michael Ventura: He's Only the Messenger

This week, I ran across a fascinating column by Michael Ventura (well, all his stuff is thought-provoking but some pieces slice to the bone and leave you bleeding without a tourniquet).

Here’s an excerpt:
Writing is something you do alone in a room. Copy that sentence and put it on your wall because there’s no way to exaggerate or overemphasize this fact. It’s the most important thing to remember if you want to be a writer. Writing is something you do alone in a room. Before any issues of style, content, or form can be addressed, the fundamental questions are: How long can you stay in that room? How many hours a day? How do you behave in that room? How often can you go back to it? How much fear (and, for that matter, how much elation) can you endure by yourself? How many years can you remain alone in a room?

Ventura had validated the insanity I’ve felt at times (ok, often) when trying to find a literal room in which to write or the writer’s room in my mind that allows me to create anywhere and anytime. It gives me pause to think about being in either room for YEARS, silently creating, desperately rewriting, anxiously waiting… Waiting for what? I’m going to be in this ‘room’ for the foreseeable future, whether or not I publish the current novel I’m writing. Why? Because the second one has been waiting patiently (not so patiently) for me to finish the first. Then the third one will tap at the door, asking to be written, and I’ll still be in that room -- me, myself and I.

I used to think the anxiety I felt before sitting down to write was because I hadn’t found the perfect room. That search could be endless: a comfortable chair and desk, the right rug, a piece of art, maybe a favorite mug. The room would have to be the right temperature in all seasons. What a time suck (and mind fuck) to search for the elusive room when it's right there in front of us, scary as hell and empty, waiting for an occupant with the sheer mental tenacity to be a writer.

What I love about Ventura is his bluntness: regardless of your talent, you must find strength of mind and spirit to survive the isolation of a writer’s life.

Oddly, I don’t feel overwhelmed by this message. It’s the smelling salts I need right now to face what I’ve always known: writing is hard, writing is lonely, writing is as essential as air and water.


  1. The room: "scary as hell and empty..."
    The page: "scary as hell and empty..."
    I've spent so much time searching for the right room to avoid the empty page. Thanks for your smelling salts. This really resonates for me. (Ouch.) --Tim

  2. You write because you absolutely have to, don't you? Good to meet you. I suffer the same.