Hard-earned experience

I’ve recently been enjoying the Quebec-set crime fiction novels of Canadian writer Louise Penny. I came across this interview where she talks about her writing and was particularly struck by the following paragraph. When you’re struggling to wite, it’ s almost inevitable you’ll compare youself to the bright young things who publish at an early age and draw the conclusion that you have no innate talent and nothing of value to say.

You started writing novels rather later in life, so your writing career has been relatively short. Do you ever wish you had started writing fiction right at the beginning?

You know, I tried. Every decade of my life I attempted to write a novel. But I had nothing to say. I was far too self-absorbed, and now I realize I was writing for others, so that they’d applaud me, see my genius, tell me how wonderful I am, or be jealous of my success. One of my favourite lines of poetry is from Auden’s elegy to Yeats: “Mad Ireland hurt him into poetry.” I had to be hurt into writing. To be wounded enough. Humbled enough. I had to learn compassion. Had to learn what it felt like to hate, and to forgive and to love and be loved. And to lose people close to me. Had to feel deep loneliness and sorrow. And then I could write.

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