I’ve known some people who always seem to be content with life, who tend to think things are perfectly fine as they are.
I don’t know any writers this way.
Not that writers have it so bad. Sure, there are stereotypes of the depressive and possibly alcoholic writer, the Edgar Alan Poes, the Charles Bukowskis, the Sylvia Plaths: the tortured artists and souls, a category that seems to loom larger in legend than in practice. Most writers I know aren’t that bad off by any means, and in fact you could probably take most of them home to your mom.
But there has to be a pretty intense fire burning inside you to devote the amount of time to write a book that it takes to write one. Spending hundreds of hours engaged in a multi-month mental marathon is not usually an act for the perfectly content at heart.
And that’s before you consider the odds.
Writing itself is a form of striving: of striving to be heard, striving for something more than the ordinary life, and, if the writer is honest, there’s probably an element of material striving as well, whether for money or recognition or both.
Writing is an act of getting down on your hands and knees and pushing on the ground and hoping the world spins on a slightly different axis. It’s the art of not taking life for granted and trying to make something, anything change.
That’s partly why we love it, right?
And I don’t know if any writer quite wrote and lived the art of writing and striving as F. Scott Fitzgerald did.
Fitzgerald lived the life of a striver. When Zelda Sayre refused to marry him because she was concerned he couldn’t provide for her, he got back to work writing and the result was This Side of Paradise, a sensation published when he was just 23 years old. He was always trying to be something more.
Of course, Fitzgerald created perhaps the ultimate striver of them all, Jay Gatsby, someone whose entire life was built on fiction, from his name (nee James Gatz), to his always shifting and unknowable biography (he professed to be from the Midwestern city of San Francisco), to the narrative he constructed around his affair with Daisy Buchanan. His life rested on layer upon layer of fiction.
And like Gatsby, writing itself is built around striving and dreams and a world conjured from thin air in the hope that it’s enough. It’s that feeling that Gatsby had of being just a few sequences of events away from having those dreams coming true, as close as the green light on the dock, so close you can “hardly fail to grasp them.”
But when those dreams recede before us, as Fitzgerald wrote in the greatest page of them all, “that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
And then we get back to work.
The Great Gatsby is published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS, which is the parent company of CNET, where I am employed. The opinions herein expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of CBS.