I suspect that for most writers, the relationship to the Muses is similarly ambivalent; writing can be a joy, but it is also quite capable of being obsession and sometimes sheer drudgery (as any writer who has plowed through the tasks of completing a major revision or constructing an index can attest). What it is not—at least in my experience—is good therapy, at least not when writing for eventual publication. (Journaling as a therapeutic exercise is a different ball game altogether, and is best left between oneself and one’s therapist.) Perhaps it is different for poets, who (by their own testimonies) often don’t grasp the full import of what they have written until it is reflected back to them by others. And perhaps a fiction writer can take the path of Stephen King, who admitted that he used his childhood phobias as the foundations for his bestselling horror stories. For most of us prosy sorts, though, it’s best to have one’s psychological house somewhat in order before committing ink to paper, for putting a book out in print is more likely to reveal what shape your self-concept is in than to heal it.
The reason that writing for publication generally isn’t therapeutic is simple: it isn’t about you. In writing for an audience, you are putting not just your writing but your investment of yourself on the firing line of others’ judgment. More often than not, the exhilaration of seeing your brainchild in print is followed by the low of realizing that sales aren’t what you hoped. Reviews? If you did your job well, you can expect to see more good than bad ones, but it only takes one scathing opinion—put out in public for all to see—to leave you feeling as if you’d taken a dagger to the gut. Never mind that the critic’s opinion may be based on personal agendas, ideology, or a general dislike of your topic rather than the specific merit of your writing; even the kindest and best-meant of criticism is not easy to take, let alone the sort that is anything but.
With Dream Derby: The Myth and Legend of Black Gold coming out in five days, I am getting reacquainted with the emotional roller coaster that comes with releasing a book. The difference between my experience as a novice author twenty years ago and my experience now is this: back then, the emotions were raw and new, and I really had no realistic idea of what to expect. Now, I know what can happen; I just don’t know what will happen. I am not sure that this is an improvement. Still, as with much of life, all I can do is to prepare myself to accept the worst while hoping for the best.