Do writers suffer for their art?

Writing can have its downside. At some stage, many of us have probably suffered from lower back pain, aching shoulders, sore eyes or headaches. And then there’s something called writers bottom! Spending much of the day tapping away on the keyboard can even lead to serious conditions such as repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome.  We all know how important it is to have a decent chair at the correct height, but how many of us end up huddled over to stare at the screen? My husband is constantly moaning at me for doing so. I can only hope that five hours of yoga, tai chi and Pilates, plus a similar amount of time line dancing and Zumba each week make up for my slovenly posture at my desk. Knowing the theory is one thing, it’s the putting into practice that can easily fall by the wayside.

Trying to get published can be soul destroying. When the rejections keep coming, it takes grim determination not to let it ruin your day even if it doesn’t stop you writing. Perhaps that’s why so many writers self-publish.  There’s a limit to how many times you can face being knocked back.

Does it have its positive side? Perhaps we should take note of Aldous Huxley’s famous quote – ‘Perhaps it’s good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he’s happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?’ I’m not sure that I would go that far, but then I write cozy crime not angst-ridden literary fiction.

I’m just back from a research trip for my next Fiona Mason Mystery. Setting my novels in different countries on a holiday tour means I need to do the holiday itself – definitely a hard life, but someone has to do it! My husband and I went on a wonderful river cruise along the River Rhone. On our first full day, we went on a tour to Les Baux up in the hills of Provence. I managed to trip and fell headlong. I’m not sure that I was actually making notes at the time but I certainly had my pen in one hand and my note book in the other. I managed to dislocate the middle finger of my right hand (good job I’m left handed). Strangely enough, it didn’t hurt – either at the time or, after three or four puffs on some magic gas and air, when the surgeon pulled it straight. The bruises on my chin, left hand and shoulder were more painful. The worst part of the experience was the ambulance ride to Avignon hospital. The bed was ridiculously high off the ground and the rail only a couple of inches high. The straps meant to hold me down were very slack and any attempts to tighten them failed. With a damaged right hand, I had to grip like mad with the left every time we went round a corner. On the plus side, I’ve never been in an ambulance before so if one of my characters ends up having to be rushed to hospital, I can at least write from experience.

It was a hiccup not a disaster, but it demonstrated how kind people can be. I could not have been better looked after. The cruise director was escorting the tour and she phoned for the ambulance and waited with me until it came. It was fortunate that the ambulance took me to Avignon and not Arles. Our ship, the Viking Heimdal, was sailing from Tarascon back to Avignon. After we left the hospital, we were able to walk into town and have a meal before we wandered to the river to watch the ship’s arrival at 10pm. Once the gangplank went down, even before it was secured, the captain came running down. I assumed it was to check the ropes but he came over to me, whipped off his jacket and put it round my shoulders. The next day, the hotel manager gave me a bunch of roses – to cheer me up! Whenever they saw me for the rest of the trip they asked how I was. I can’t speak highly enough of Christine, Richard and Chris. Staff and passengers were all so friendly and kind. Even the maitre d’ asked how I was by name.

I haven’t begun to plot the novel yet so I have no idea if one of Fiona’s passenger will be foolish enough to trip and end up with a dislocated finger, but the experience could well end up in a book some day. We did a coach trip to the Rhine Gorge when I was writing Blood in the Wine. The itinerary was the same as Fiona’s. Those of you who have read the book may remember one of the characters slipped down the last two stairs and wrench an ankle. That really happened and I was in some pain by the time we got to the hotel (the one I describe in the novel) and like Fiona, I was too preoccupied to listen to the instructions on how to find our room.

Perhaps we do suffer for our art, but if it’s any consolation, always remember, you can use it a future book. We writers can get our own back on all those difficult people we meet by using them as models for our more unpleasant characters, (I have many a time). No difficult experience is ever wasted. Keep smiling. Keep writing.

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