Don’t let anyone ever tell you writing is a stolid art. Emotions skip like jump ropes around a writer’s work, spinning with a Gaussian blur until the final period skips—or tumbles—into being. When deftly placed, that newly-minted tale compels a continent of disciples; but when the madness of emoting is passed, we drop both writing and writer.
Yes, they have a flair for drama, but this much is real: the physical act of writing is a poor veil for the intensity of the discipline. If they, as writers, track the seediest courses of human history, then they also dare to tread the paths of ruin themselves and become emotional wrecks in the process. Or if they mold some fictional world out of nothing, they cling to characters like lovers once loved and brutally lost. Writers are good writers precisely because they are too much invested in what they write. It is also probably true, that because they are such a stupidly emotional and passionate breed, they are painfully difficult to be around.
Just look at David Sedaris. I’ll grant you his style is both fun and funny, but always in a self-deprecating way. It is a niche he has carved, settled in, and began decorating for the Christmases when he and his partner Hugh have grand-puppies. And yes, we love the flamboyance of his stories and the surrealism of his life, but after two dozens tales tinged with the dark humor of self-loathing, it begins to feel a bit, well, stale. We ask, slightly afraid of offending: What man seriously spends so much time regretting and hating his life? Even he has attested to upsetting familial relations with his tales of woe and waywardness.
There are others of a different ilk, who land by chance in a fabled world of their own imaginative creating. It is that wildly unreal world that the real world embraces—to the point of choking it to death. E.g.: J.K. Rowling. She is a lovely testament to the possibility of rich stories and powerful characters, inspirational to bibliophiles across generations. But she is also now a pigeon-holed storyteller, known for one thing and one thing only: Harry Potter. Sure, she’s begun dabbling in mystery writing and other things (I can’t remember what), but if she were to write even more prequels and sequels—perhaps akin to the Tolkien empire—then we would deliriously walk the path with her back again to Hogwarts. As it is, her newer ventures—manifestations of personal passions, I hear—are a bit beyond the limits of our attention.
But whatever these paragons of novel success offer in their storytelling, they share a harsh commonality: a vulnerability opened with their books. With each character comes a piece of the author, a reflection of anxiety, a shadow of tainted happiness. It is their therapy. The fact is, writers don’t write about things they don’t know; there is always some emotional bond between subject and author. For that reason, seeing their work digested—shredded, criticized, praised, lauded—in the public sphere is terrifying. They are less courageous than their heroes, and more dwarfed than single-chapter foils. They are amazingly human. And that is the best of story of them all.
Oh, they have a flair for seeding drama, yes, but that’s what we expect from them: fire-breathing dragons and twisted loves torn to pieces at the hilt of war. And what creator is not emotionally shackled to that which he or she creates, however evil? It’s a hazard of the job, I’m afraid, and both us and they will have to deal with it. At the end of the book and the end of the day, the hands that built that dragon mourn its loss. Though we may cheer and cry for more charade, they will weep, wondering how ever to summon the strength for yet another tale, another dragon, another lousy book.