Writing is Work

Mary Roberts Rinehart

The average writer, especially if he is experienced, is a humble creature, ready to wag his tail at a kind word. It is usually the dilettante who has the superiority complex.

A contemporary of Agatha Christie, Rinehart was as prolific and well-known in her day as “the Queen of crime.” However, she has not withstood the trials of time.  Her book, Writing is Work, seems as fresh and appropriate today as in her day.  Like Art and Fear, it is very short – a mere twenty-five pages.  But her succinct and blunt advice doesn’t need reams to cover. Saddled with a household of sick children, the assistant to her doctor husband, a full house to manage with little help and, at time, weighing less than 100 pounds, Rinehart still found the time to write.

Her advice is blunt – keep writing, no matter what.  It has to be hard work and will often be miserable and unrewarding.  But, in her rather bleak way, she points out:

Truly the writer is like the man who has caught the tiger by the tail and couldn’t let go.  He must carry on.  He is a factory, which stops business if he has a headache or tonsillitis; but otherwise he must work, and pretty uncertainly at that. He is lucky in many ways. He has small upkeep, and if his factory starts to ache at least there is no payroll to meet but his own. Also he has no hours. He way work all day or all night.  But work he must.

Rinehart’s book is more a warning and a stiffening of resolve for anyone contemplating a life as a writer. Perhaps this should be mandatory reading for any English and Journalism 101 courses to sort out the weak-willed dilettantes who want silly things like a livelihood and happiness.