TLC Tours for The Sunday Salon: Because You Have To: A Writing Life

I’m a writing book junkie.

Sometimes, I’m one of those people who loves to read about writing more than I actually love to write. There is a mystique surrounding a writer’s life, especially for those of us who are wannabe’s, who worship at the throne of “real” writers – you know, the ones with actual books that have been printed with paper and ink.

So when TLC Tours offered me the opportunity to read/review Because You Have To: A Writing Life, by Joan Frank, I readily agreed to feed my reading-about-writing habit.

Frank contends that those who are called to write must do so, no matter what the privation. She uses herself as a prime example, discussing the ways she has supported her writing (a published body of work that include two short story collections and three novels) with mostly low-paying office jobs. She talks about co-workers who complain that she is unresponsive when she drifts into a daydream about her latest work. She relates tales of ekeing out moments to write between fielding phone calls and typing letters. “There is never enough,” she titles one of her chapters. Never enough time, money, silence, appreciation.

She talks about the isolation that writers sometimes feel, the need to “build a kind of coherent wholesome scaffolding around the essentially lonely, aberrant, and certainly unjustifiable act of writing.” She advises the writer to “be careful whom you tell,” about your writing, because “Americans tend to feel uneasy when confronted with someone professing to practice art.” She shares some “gruesome stories” about marketing and rejection.

She does not sugar coat the writer’s life, oh no she does not.

But still, this reader can sense on every page how compelled she is to put words to paper, to express ideas, to work out emotions and scenarios and possibilities on the printed page. Frank looks at the writers life -well, frankly – but in a way that makes you still want to be part of that mysterious brotherhood.

She even writes about those writing books I love to love so much.

You can collect dozens of technique books. In the end, writing that has life in it can’t issue from someone else’s formula, like dance steps painted on a plastic mat. Anyone with an instinct for the shape and sound and movement of language must somewhere in her heart recognize this lonely truth, and agree to trust herself to go forward, absorbing the advice that fits along the way, tossing the rest.

Because You Have To: A Writing Life.  Joan Frank tells it like it is in this very personal, sometimes funny, sometimes acerbic, sometimes joyous book about what keeps her coming back to the page.

We write to investigate, attend, witness. When even the biggest literary names make victorious reading tours, they often admit how unhappy they feel until they have settled into the next writing project – how hungrily they miss working on something, amid whatever aclaim. I believe them. The itch, the yearning, the glimpse of the next tantalizing, disturbing idea – how can I broach it, solve the inescapable problems? Where might I take it; more accurately, more excitingly, where might it take me? The call of the dream: getting back to it, getting it down. Product is good, but process, we learn the hard way, it the real tugging star. One following onto the next, a whole sparkling cosmos of them.

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6 thoughts on “TLC Tours for The Sunday Salon: Because You Have To: A Writing Life

  1. I know you won’t think me critical of you if I mention a couple of things in Joan Frank’s view of things that really offend me. Well, distress me. Or something.

    One thing is that she “talks about co-workers who complain that she is unresponsive when she drifts into a daydream about her latest work.” I’d complain, too. Because my work is solitary, I’m a little freer to daydream, but I keep working while I do so. Work is work, and writing is writing, and mixing the two isn’t good for either.

    Beyond that, calling the act of writing “unjustifiable” makes me question why she’s even doing it. And that business about not telling people about our writing, because Americans get nervous around people who practice art? That’s either snobbery or something worse.

    I agree with her on one point – she’s exactly right that there’s “never enough” of time and money. But sometimes, there’s more than enough snark, and I’m afraid that’s what I get from her book.

  2. Dear Becca: Thank you so much for your kind, considerate, warm, and thoughtful review of BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO. I’ll always be grateful.

    Dear Shoreacres: I appreciate your having given attention to BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO, and sorry the book offended and/or distressed you; hoping you may find more to like, one day, in the books of fiction themselves.

  3. I’m so glad that you enjoyed this look at a writer’s innermost thoughts … it certainly isn’t a life I’m called to, though like you I do enjoy reading about it!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  4. Actually, that quote, “Americans tend to feel uneasy when confronted with someone professing to practice art,” really resonated with me because I am an artist, as well as a writer, and I find it to be true. I open my studio to the public once a month, and people often don’t know what to make of us, having chosen a field that isn’t “practical,” technical, or scientific. Depending on the level of support you get (or don’t get) from the people in your life, sometimes it’s better to not tell them about your creative pursuits if all they’re going to do is discourage you, especially if you’re younger and just starting out. Sounds like an interesting book to me!

    • It’s hard to overcome the lack of support artists sometimes feel from society in general, and particularly from family members. Laying your soul on the line in writing or art or music is not easy, and having the encouragement of others is so important!

  5. I found the quote to be very true as well…I don’t publicize my writing at all…even the writing on my blog is kept within a community of bloggers, not on my personal spaces. That’s my choice, of course, but it is absolutely bc of my fear of laying my soul on the line like you so eloquently put it, Becca.
    I really enjoyed Frank’s book and just reviewed it today for TLC 🙂

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