Sunday, July 11, 2010

Writing a Dog's Life?

“Writing is a dog’s life, but the only one worth living.” ~ Gustave Flaubert

When I came across this quotation, I paused. Then, I googled.

Gustave Flaubert was a 19th century French author, whose only work I recognized in his writing repertoire was Madame Bovary. He is described as a writer who ruthlessly wracked his brain to find just the right word but was never satisfied that he’d found it. The language and construct of his personal letters proved that his literary finesse wasn’t natural, but developed through the sweat and struggle of revisions to meticulously avoid the vague, the ambiguous, the imprecise.

The more I read, the more it seemed that Flaubert was a man tortured by his craft. A further Google search revealed that in the 1800’s, the phrase, “a dog’s life”, referred to a “wretched” one. In the 21st century, even the term “wretched” has become antiquated and in modern tongue, one would simply use the words miserable, crummy, or crappy to describe the sentiment.

A dog’s life equals a crappy life? My how things have changed in three hundred years.

My two fur-babies have posh lifestyles. Nothing crappy about their world, except the spot in the yard where they poo. They are surrounded by people who cater to them 24 hours a day. We feed them when they’re hungry and give them treats throughout the day. Anyone in the house becomes an instant doorman whenever the pooches want to go outside or come in. They are given regular baths with scented soap. (Okay, they probably don’t consider that a perk, but it is a necessity when living in a human pack.) They even get chauffeured to the doggie park for group play dates, followed by a trip to the drive-thru for their favorite kid’s meal. And, of course they get all the love—hugs, pats on the head, belly rubs, and positive affirmations that they want and need.

A dog’s life today is so not like a writer’s.

But I get what Flaubert was expressing.

Writing is a struggle, or at least it should be, even to those born to it. Nothing that comes easy ever satisfies the soul. It is in the wrestling that we find accomplishment.

The writer must pour over every word, honing and tuning it to portray the exact thought or emotion that exists in her mind at the moment of its conception. And, like natural childbirth, only through laborious toil and pain can that creation be pushed from her innermost being into the world. No one can do this for her. She has to do it herself.

I’m not suggesting that as writers we hole up in a closet or a basement, or underneath the stairs to go through this process alone. We should surround ourselves with people who cheer us on, cheer us up, and who are cheery to be around. Be mindful, though, that these same people know when to stop cheering and kick butt. Cheering for the sake of cheering serves no good purpose to a writer.

Despite the challenges and drudge I face, I love being a writer. So, I echo Flaubert’s summation… It is no easy life being a writer, but it is the only one for me.

~Kristal Lee

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Anonymous said...

duke1959 says:
You are so right. For me though I wouldn’t have it any other way.

July 11, 2010

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