Netflix alert: There’s a highly entertaining limited series out now, called Pretend It’s a City. It features author/humorist Fran Lebowitz chatting with Martin Scorcese, giving her opinions on an array of topics. If you’re not familiar with her, Lebowitz is incredibly smart and almost unbelievably funny. The show is broken into half hour episodes so it’s easy to digest, though it’s equally easy to binge if you choose.
Of special interest to fellow artists, I would recommend Episode Two, titled ‘Cultural Affairs’. In it, Fran espouses about art, music, talent, and has an interesting conversation with Spike Lee about the difference between an athlete and an artist. One part especially rang true for me, however—when she mentions her disdain for the very thing that gave her the career she’s had: writing.
“I loved to write, until the very first time I got an assignment to write for money. And then I hated to write.”
“I’ve only known one really good writer in my life who loved to write. Most people who love to write are horrible writers.”
I can’t speak to the first part, as I’ve never actually had a paid writing assignment. That second quote though…that hits home. Because as much as I love writing, and for all the time I spend poring over the written word, I actually kind of hate it. I’ve never known any other artform that artists seem to love and hate in equal measure. It’s not just me, either. Plenty of writers have spoken about how they loathe what they love. While watching Pretend It’s a City, I laughed at Lebowitz’s quote and told my wife how true it was, so she asked the question: “Then why do you do it?”
I had to think for a second, but this is what I came up with: It’s almost like a compulsion. I have these stories in my head that I have to get out, because to keep them solely in my head seems kind of pointless. I suppose there may be an odd sense of narcissism in believing they’re good enough that other people would care enough to read them, but I have to get them out. I quit writing once for a few years, then realized I hadn’t felt complete since I stopped. Then about a year and a half or two years ago, I almost quit again. That was when I decided once and for all that I would spend the rest of my life writing stories. Whether they get published or not, I need them out of my head to make room for other things, like why I walked into the kitchen, or what errands I need to run when I get home from work.
My dearly departed friend Michael Louis Calvillo (check out his incredible books here) was one of the first people I heard describe writing like that. At the time, I couldn’t really relate. Now, however, I totally understand. It’s almost like an itch that needs scratched or you’ll go insane.
So, fellow writers…what about you? Do you love writing? Hate it? Both? If you hate it, why do you do it? Is it an itch you have to scratch?