Gustave Flaubert and the madness of writing

I found the following passage from Flaubert’s letter to Louis Colet in John Updike’s “Picked up Pieces.” I am sure very writer can relate to what Flaubert wrote.

“I love my work with a love that is frenzied and perverted . . . Sometimes, when I am empty, when words don’t come, when I find I haven’t written a single sentence after scribbling whole pages, I collapse on my couch and lie there dazed, bogged in a swamp of despair, hating myself and blaming myself for this demented pride which makes me pant after a chimera. A quarter of an hour later everything changes; my heart is pounding for joy. Last Wednesday I had to get up and fetch my handkerchief; tears were streaming down my face. I had been  moved by my own writing; the emotion I had conceived, the phrase that rendered it, and satisfaction of having found the phrase-all were causing me to experience the most exquisite pleasure.”

Flaubert’s passage  is passionate and though I find phrases like “bogged in a swamp of despair” a bit florid, his point is identifiable to all writers. A writer does become frustrated when he can’t get his wording right, but I have not despaired. I will concede getting bogged down. And like Flaubert I have taken pride finding my writing flowing with the right words, the right phrase. It can be exhilarating. But I didn’t cry with joy. I save crying for Lassie movies.

Something else that caught my attention in Flaubert’s passage was though he was frustrated and in despair with his writing, it took only 15 minutes before his “heart is pounding for joy” (another florid phrase). At the risk of profiling, to go from despair to joy in 15 minutes seems like a manic depressive. I think he is compressing the passion, the mania, the madness of the writing experience.

Whether you are in despair or your heart is pounding for joy (again a Lassie movie) I am sure you writers out there feel closer to the brotherhood of our calling, and closer to old Gustave as well.

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Filed under dalies, e-book publishing, fiction, fiction writing, Uncategorized, writers, writing

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