Writing is hard business. It starts out in seclusion, continues as compulsion and never quite finishes. The pursuit itself is in heavy odds against a happy ending, and we mean that literally. To call writers “tortured” is a good idea. Therapeutic as writing may be, once engrained as a lifetime passion, the writer must justify it to himself for the simple reason that any single writing project is a career.
Take Margaret Mitchell and her project of Gone with the Wind. Her happiest days were probably those spent as a newspaper and magazine reporter, even while her first marriage was falling apart. She lived in a cramped apartment and read books compulsively. As a relatively young woman, she developed health problems. If her body was temperamental, her mind was perhaps more so, being highly intelligent, easily bored, and demanding to the point of perfectionism and self-deprecation.
it took her ten years to write Gone with the Wind. During that project, she referred to her “manic depression” and claimed she never wrote but with some kind of drawback. According to biographer Darden Pyron, Mitchell complained at the time that her “writing goes so slowly as to be almost imperceptible. After the jitters came a spell of pleurisy which made writing impossible and now that I’m trying again, it seems sillier and sillier” (Southern Daughter, Life of Margaret Mitchell).
She fought against arthritis and was unable to walk normally for at least four years. During a period of time, her hands were too stiff and swollen to touch a typewriter. She also had an episode of blindness and has been called a neurotic.
The most curious detail, though perhaps not to other writers, was her secretiveness. She hid her writing from her friends, covering the typewriter with a bath towel if someone dropped by unexpectedly. She moved her typewriter and growing stacks of manuscript around the apartment to better and better conceal them. And note: she was always dismissive about her purported creative writing efforts.
Why? She had an established reputation as a reporter. For some reason, she distrusted her compulsion to write this novel. Perhaps she understood too well the difficulty in finding an editor. It was after being goaded that she slammed all the scattered chapters of her then unnamed epic into a giant pile and carted them off furiously to the hotel room of the Macmillan editor, Harold Lantham.