IT SHOULD NOT BE EASY
On the wall of my room I have a printed page with a quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a quote that jumped out at me the very first time I read the novel as a teen—and indeed, which bowled me over and left me both thrilled and shaken. I still remember the way my breath left me when I read it, and how I actually had to set the novel down to process those lines. It’s a bracing bit of wisdom that has stuck with me all these years, and I often refer back to it in those solitary moments of fear and doubt that necessarily accompany any intimate creative project.
Writing a novel is hard, and writing a good one sometimes feels like an insane, impossible task. The sheer number of setbacks, roadblocks, and painful yet necessary corrections can become overwhelming, especially since the work is so lonely. In moments of weakness (and I'm sure my experience is far from unique), I wondered if I would ever finish the manuscript, and I lamented that the road couldn’t be so much smoother, that my story couldn’t just write itself.
And then I would remind myself that no, it was the very challenge of this venture that showed it was worthwhile. And I shouldn't have it any other way.
The quote I have on my wall comes from a scene at the end of Frankenstein in which an exploration voyage to the North Pole runs into murderous weather, and ice entraps the ship. The crew, once full of optimism and ambition, becomes despondent, with many of the men advocating turning back to England once they finally free their vessel from the ice. Dr. Victor Frankenstein, a guest on board the ship, confronts the crew over their lack of courage in following through with their mission, demanding to know where their determination went and just what they thought a worthy venture would entail when they first signed on.
He rebukes them: “Are you, then, so easily turned from your design? Did you not call this a glorious expedition? And wherefore was it glorious? Not because the way was smooth and placid as a southern sea, but because it was full of dangers and terror, because at every new incident your fortitude was to be called forth and your courage exhibited, because danger and death surrounded it, and these you were to brave and overcome. For this was it a glorious, for this was it an honourable undertaking…. And now, behold, with the first imagination of danger, or, if you will, the first mighty and terrific trial of your courage, you shrink away…. Why, that requires not this preparation; ye need not have come thus far and dragged your captain to the shame of a defeat merely to prove yourselves cowards. Oh! Be men, or be more than men.”
These words—though delivered by a flawed and tragic figure very near his own end—have been a shot of adrenaline to me on occasions when I felt my commitment flagging.
Nothing worthy is easy. It’s one of the most bitter yet critical lessons I’ve ever had to swallow, a talisman I've learned to hold close when life’s storms come raging or, worse, when I begin to feel entitled to a painless victory. Writing A Red Autumn Wind (and, hopefully, making it good) challenged me in ways I never expected, knocked me to my knees more than once, and fundamentally transformed my relationship with writing as a craft.
It has all been worth it.