This post first appeared on my Red Room profile
Bitterness, much like eccentricity and corpulence, appears to be somewhat of an occupational hazard for writers. Just as sitting on your rump all day writing is guaranteed to make you fat, and spending whole days inside your own head sure to make you a bit weird, the challenges writers face are likely to make them bitter.
It often begins when writers try to find recognition for their work, only to find themselves competing against legions of other hopeful writers for the attention of agents and publishers. The journey from writing to publishing can be a long one, and in itself this can be a cause of great grudge-bearing even for the best of us. But bitterness does not end once writers publish, and not even when they win awards and become successful: even many of the greats were caught up in long running feuds and sniping that not even their success could ameliorate.
The British writer Anthony Burgess could not bring himself to write an obituary for his contemporary, the writer Graham Greene. Burgess had for years simmered with resentment that Greene was popularly, and critically, considered to be the better writer of the two. This ill-feeling apparently continued for Burgess even after Greene's death, so embittered had he become by virtue of his competitor's success.
And bitterness is not a trait uniquely British. The American writer Truman Capote famously bitched of Jack Kerouac, a contemporary of his with a high daily productivity rate: "He says he writes up to 2,000 words a day. That's not writing, that's typing."
Recently, a friend and I were discussing the tendency for writers to become self-occupied and bitchy. He had recently been on a train journey back from a literature festival, and been involved in a conversation with two other writers. The conversation had in content mainly been critical: of agents, of publishers, and of other writers and their process. He had been struck by how quickly writers become embittered by everything they face. Thankfully, my friend and I have both recently celebrated recent successes, and I hope there will be many more to come: but it seems that even success itself is not a bar to bitterness. My new ambition as a writer, other than producing great work, is to become more stoic...