Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Impressive or disturbing?

GalleyCat has an article this morning about the launch and coverage of Charles Bock's Beautiful Children. I don't know anything about this guy or his book, but this quote struck me:

"Truth is I worked on this novel for 10 years. Not ten years of watching Seinfeld at 11 PM. Ten years of a high priority in my life. When I was dating the woman who is now my wife, I would only go out with her two nights a week because I couldn't give more time to that.

Now. I'll grant that this is serious dedication. I must say, though, that I'm impressed with his wife, sticking with him through 10 years of coming in second on the priority list.

So. Is he an artist who has his priorities right? An artist who is a little screwed up in the head? Does it take that kind of single-minded determination (to the detriment of other activities in one's life) to create something brilliant, or even good? Does it really matter, as long as his wife could put up with it? Is it possible to be a great (or even good) writer and still have a well-rounded life? Am I asking all the wrong questions?


  1. Anonymous7:47 AM

    First of all, 10 years with this as a "high priority"? I'm not the fastest writer in the world, but that is amazing.

    I guess it's good work if you can get it, though. I doubt if I could pull it off for ten years, though. That said, I would kill to be able to "only go out two nights a week".

    Anyhow, I'm with you on this.

  2. As someone going on Year 5, I guess I relate to this guy somewhat. Matt knows he comes first in my life, but he doesn't ask to. Which is why I married him. If she wanted a life of partying every night, why was she dating a writer? She sounds like she's OK with it to me, since she married him. Most people I know with kids don't go out that often. Sometimes a book takes longer than a baby to wean. I'm trying to stop comparing myself to others, so I guess my answer is, anything's possible.

  3. Paul - I guess I'm just impatient. Ready to move on to the next thing. It's one of my (many) failings.

    Heather - I guess my point wasn't the partying part - I mean, we *never* go out. I think what bugged me (and you've seen me flail about this for years) is that his novel took first priority in his life, rather than his interpersonal relationships (of course, I'm extrapolating his entire life and psyche from one comment, but you know what I mean).

  4. But did he actually say first? From the bit quoted, it's hard to tell. If he had said, "I didn't go out with her for a year because I didn't have time for her" or "No one else matters to me when I'm writing" or something, that would raise my eyebrows. I just don't think one priority cancels out another. To me, that's part of what being a writer is. Writing is solitary, it's hermity, it's secluded. Anyone who wants an interpersonal relationship with us has to realize that.

    But I get what you're saying, though. I miss the days when I had a full social life and lots of friends and acquaintences, and time/brain power to help them all. I wasn't doing any writing then, though.

  5. No, he didn't. I made an assumption, which was unfair. This is one of those things that bugs me, because I have such a problem with it. I mean, I've never had a full social life, don't get me wrong. I guess it's just hard for me to balance writing and making sure I'm giving the people I love in my life their time and due. That just goes back to my weirdness about it being OK to take time for myself. Or something. I think I'm just weird. And I definitely need chocolate.

  6. It is hard. I get guilt feelings about it all the time, not so much with RL friends as with online friends. Some of them are closer to me than RL friends, so when I'm eyeball-deep in writing and I'm limiting my internet time, I feel like I'm cutting off friendships. So I totally get you. Just remember that we have an overly high definition of what "time and due" is, thinking we're shirking when we're really not.

  7. i'd guess that she really liked this about him - I mean to end up marrying him for it and not despite of it. Sounds like it is somewhat rare to be so committed to an artistic endeavor, and isn't it the rarer qualities that are most attractive (sometimes)?

  8. I find it very difficult to give adequate time to my writing. For me, being a mother and full-time professor, let alone a wife, seems to eat away almost all of my time. I mean, how does one say no to time with the kid, in particular? As he gets older, though, I am seeing that maybe there may come a time when I have more time for my "work."

    One of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gaskell, did not start writing until she was in her mid-forties, after her kids grew up a bit. Maybe there's hope for me!

  9. Dan - Yes, I can see what you're saying. I mean, it worked for her ultimately. I'm just wondering if it takes that level of commitment to produce something great (assuming his work is, I don't know) - or can you actually have a well-rounded life AND create something great. It's something I struggle with every day.

    Writingbb - Thank you so much for that bit of info about Gaskell! And yes, I'm with you - when you have a full time job, and a full time marriage, and a full time family, how do you put all of those second and make your writing your #1 priority? It seems almost impossible, to me at least.