Monday, June 7, 2010

The writer as Sisyphus

In an ancient Greek myth, evil King Sisyphus of Corinth ratted out Zeus for abducting the nymph Aegina. Zeus punished him by condemning him to an eternity of pushing a boulder uphill over and over again, only to have it roll back down just before reaching the summit.

Writers everywhere can sympathize.

Our task perhaps is worse: We never get a reprieve. Sisyphus at least could stroll down the hill after each effort. As writers, the more we know about writing, the more room for improvement we see in our own work.

This is not such a bad thing. Where would the fun be if we reached some plateau and said, "Now I'm the best writer I can possibly be." Every book afterward would be like factory work, putting parts together over and over to produce a product. And isn't that boring repetition one of the reasons we left the security of our day jobs to become writers?

In a post at my own blog last week, I detailed my struggle to understand the term "on the nose" and to grasp why on-the-nose writing was a bad thing.

Several years ago, I spent months struggling with the technique of deep point of view. I finally understand it, but I still struggle to execute it. Next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, new problems will crop up that I must solve to improve my writing. Like dancers, like musicians, writers continue learning their art their whole life.

Author and philosopher Albert Camus said this of Sisyphus: must imagine Sisyphus happy....The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart."

Thanks for visiting my blog. Next time, on June 23, I'll talk about deep POV for those of you frustrated that I did not define it here.

—Shauna Roberts


KeVin K. said...

The writer has what? Oh. Sorry. Hitting this right after the Sexaholics post threw me into a skid.

I'm 90% happy with the Sisyphus analogy. Because, you're right: mastering the craft of writing is a never ending task. And Camus was right, in many ways the struggle is its own reward.
But 10% of me is outcome-oriented. Sisyphus never published. Every struggle must have a resolution. So while writing as a life's work can be seen as Sisyphusian, I have to think of it as a series of struggles, with the writer after each victory choosing to begin anew -- hungry to push for an even higher height.

Farrah Rochon said...

What a wonderful analogy, Shauna. That struggle to make every book better than the last is constant. But like Camus said, it is a "happy struggle." I always say that even on the hardest writing day, there is nothing better than living out this dream.

Shauna Roberts said...

Point taken, KEVIN. I think the distinction here is between the quest to become a great writer and the quest to become a successful author. We can all cite bad writers who make the bestseller list and great writers who don't sell well.

FARRAH, I'm glad you're doing so well and are so happy.

Liane Spicer said...

Enjoyed that analogy, Shauna, although thinking of it that way could make our task seem herculean. Which it is.

Looking forward to the POV post.