The Cost of Writing

Quiet week this Monday—I've got elderberry trees and daisies to plant, and some new pumpkin and Hubbard squash starts waiting for the garden hoops to go up, and two pieces of polyphony to learn for Good Friday (squee!!!), and books to write. Especially that last. I am whelmed in deep gulfs of books to write.

These days when I'm focused with all my strength on navigating said gulfs, it's hard to read abstract thought about the work of writing. In the middle of the process, bald instruction is more likely to confuse the rhythm and mood of narrative than to actually direct it. But here, thanks to BrainPickings, is F. Scott Fitzgerald talking about the cost of writing at a professional level. It's not a point about talent or training, it's the simple question of being all in:
I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.
Fitzgerald isn't around to tell me whether I myself am succeeding, but according to his laws, my conscience is at least clear.

Readers and writers, if you have comments on Fitzgerald's points about the necessity of selling your deepest emotions, I'd love to hear them.


  1. I love what he says! I think a good writer will always have more to sell than just his emotions, and a bad writer will turn even the deepest feeling into just a wordy mess, but writing without passion is cheap, and especially when the writer his holding back a part of himself he's unwilling to share..when he either has a mask to wear or is just too locked up within himself to write as a true person..

    Good luck with the elderberries! We planted three last year, and almost lost one to the chickens! I envy you your early planting!!

    1. Well, I'm planting elderberries that were already outside... we could still get a frost, so I'm not planting anything that can't take cold. I admit we've got more early planting freedom than Maine, however. ;)

      Yeah, I totally agree... especially that a bad writer will turn even the deepest feelings into a wordy mess. I've seen a fair amount of that.

      I do hope I've got more to sell than just emotions, even here at the beginning. As for his example of writing a superficial conversation among girls and making it interesting--that sounded like a challenge to me. So. Tempting. :P

  2. Delayed response . . . forgive me!

    When I read this, I had to go away and let it sink in. It felt a little bit like a reprimand at the time (not from you, from the Powers that Be) about my lack of concentration in writing over the past few weeks, my inability to commit, my desire to have-it-all and experiment with my other (varied) interests, instead of focusing on what I have decided, through prayer, and have had affirmed, I believe, that I need to pursue a writing vocation.

    I realize now that if I throw my whole self into writing, that doesn't mean there won't be time for other hobbies; I'm just a terrible commiter. It's why it took me forever to decide on, and then to write my master's thesis. Why I dabbled around and--I won't say wasted time because I think it did help my writing--but certainly postponed the inevitable by dallying in fandom for so many precious years when I could have been cultivating my own sense of creativity and writing, and be much farther ahead in my vocation than I am now.

    But I do aim for, even if I have not yet perfected, a kind of un-obscure honesty in my writing. It's taking a risk, that's for sure. That's something you must take in stride, though, if you want to pursue the writing lifestyle.

    1. Believe me, I am in every way the late-blooming type, and I know just what you mean. I dallied in music. It's hard for me to regret that, because I love music, but would I be a better writer if I had prioritized writing? And I'm sure I would be if I had known earlier where to look for good fiction. Even now I could probably make better reading choices.

      Hopefully God has mercy on us slow-processing cautious types. Because I don't think indecisiveness is the same as laziness... Anyway, I feel that reprimand you're talking about almost constantly, so here's to solidarity--God can still use and bless imperfect writers like us!

    2. Amen! *quick sign of the cross* c;


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