Just Right Advice

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingMy husband has decided that he wants to write a play, which is of course very cool (and what home wouldn’t benefit from having two neurotic writers under its roof?). Because of this, our coffee table is now sporting several new tomes, including The Collected Plays of Neil Simon Volume IV.

Meanwhile, I’ve been going through something akin to a medieval sobering ritual with regards to my own manuscript, feeling in turns like someone has hit me with a bucket of ice water, then hot, ice, hot, ice. Depending on when you ask me, I may tell you I love my manuscript…or just plain hate its guts.

Yes, these two seemingly random blips about my life tie together, so hold on to your ponies.

My husband, who came home one day and noticed my bedraggled self and defeatist expression said, “You should really read the forward of that Neil Simon book. It reminded me of you.”

Like I have time to read another craft book, I thought, all grumbly, but I cracked it open anyway. I found the just-right splash of inspiration I needed in graph two. (My husband appreciates my desire for a quick punch line.)

I presently have no thoughts for a new play, but that hasn’t stopped me before. To quote Walter Kerr, a former reviewer for The New York Times and my favorite critic ever, from his opening night review of my December 1966 play, The Star-Spangled Girl, “Neil Simon didn’t have an idea for a new play this year, but he wrote it anyway.” It was the best bad review I ever received. From it I learned that if you do not have a burning passion to write a particular story, if you are not so eager to get to the typewriter in the morning and so reluctant to leave it when the sun begins to set, so driven that you’re willing to forgo family, friends, food and sex, so preoccupied that you have trouble remembering your daughter’s first name or that you’ve forgotten to remove your socks when taking a shower (if indeed you found time to take the shower), then don’t write the play. It takes all that motivation just to make it a passable work. To make it something wonderful, to quote Hemingway, or to quote the biographer who quoted Hemingway, “The writing of a book should destroy the writer. If there is anything left, he has not worked hard enough. The writer himself does not matter, the book is everything.”

It’s hard to read that and feel better, but I did. I do indeed have a great passion for my story, for telling it, for getting to The End. Hot water, ice, hot, ice–okay, I get it now. This journey we’re all on–the one that takes us to the edge of our own humanity and makes us want to rip our eyebrows off–it’s necessary. Even normal.

Because we all want to create something wonderful, don’t we?

Write on, all.



About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.


  1. thea mcginnis says

    stop listening to the demons…stop listening to the demons…stop listening to the demons… hey, how is it that we can tune out even our kids when we are reading a good book, but when it comes to writing our good book, we can’t stop listening to the demons? we need to utilize the same skill – to tune out the world while we are in creation mode.

  2. says

    This is helpful, Teri. I feel the same way about my wip right now, like I’d rather drive nails into my eyes that look at it one more time. Writing does destroy the creator, because a piece of themselves lives on the page.

  3. says

    I think it’s pretty darn normal to feel hot-cold about your manuscript. If you thought the entire thing was the best thing ever written, then you wouldn’t be a writer, IMO. LOL