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Writing Is Supposed to Be Tough, But Roxane Gay Makes It Look Easy

During the rare moments when I’m faced with nothing much to do, there’s a pretty good chance that the 1992 film — the masterpiece — A League of Their Own will be on television, and I will probably watch it. I will sing along to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League theme song word for word and tear up a little at the part where Betty Spaghetti gets the telegram informing her that her husband was killed in battle. This is me admitting this stuff, and I’m totally fine with it.

There’s also a scene, one in which the team’s coach, played by Tom Hanks (natch), offers a piece of wisdom about the sport he loves that I tend to think about on a daily basis, even when I’m not watching the movie: “It’s supposed to be hard,” he says about baseball. “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

Although it could probably be applied to any profession, that quote nicely sums up what how I feel about writing. It’s the type of profession that many would like to try their hands at, but it, too, is really tough. It doesn’t require heavy lifting, and even though you might get a few paper cuts from leafing through a manuscript, the physical demands are basically nil; yet it is still incredibly difficult, often frustrating, and always a challenge. Being a writer is really fucking hard. Any writer who says otherwise is either lying or has serious dirt on somebody very high up.

An-Untamed-StateAlthough she’d probably argue with this observation, Roxane Gay makes it look easy. Just look at her collected writings, with stories in several collections, criticism in places like the New York Times, and dozens of essays in various publications. Gay’s output is truly something to marvel at. When you also take into consideration the fact that she edits, runs a small press, and has just published her debut novel, An Untamed State (one we’ve raved about more than a few times, but here’s a reminder that it might not only be one of the best debuts of the year, but one of 2014’s best novels), it can seem like Gay has some superhuman ability, that has allowed her to create such an impressive body of work. (Or maybe she just doesn’t sleep?)

While I can’t really comment on whether she’s from Krypton or offer any definitive knowledge of her sleep habits, as somebody who has read Gay’s work for a few years now, the thing I’ve always found interesting about it is that she can straddle the line between being a “writer’s writer” (a term I mostly detest, but one that does adequately sum up the sort of writer whose dedication to the craft earns them just as many devoted followers as readers) and one who is able to get a wider audience to pay attention and react in some way to her words. That is really the ultimate goal of the writer, but, like I said earlier, if it were that easy we’d all be writing novels.

As somebody who became aware of Gay through the fiction-writing community, but who grew to respect her initially through her essays, I can attest that — with all the people I’ve seen tweeting about Gay’s publication day, all the people that share her essays with a type of “fuck yes” vigor that few author enjoy, and the people that ask me in conversation if I read that thing Roxane Gay wrote (to which I usually reply, “Which thing?”) — she has earned every little bit of that praise and admiration, not just because she’s a great writer, but because she works her ass off. It isn’t easy, but Roxane Gay does it.

But what, exactly, has she done? What does working hard entail for a writer in 2014? Well, for one thing, a willingness to write as much as you can certainly helps. But I think Gay’s greatest asset is her willingness to jump into any conversation, to be as unbiased as possible, and to offer a smart assessment while making the personal political and the political personal. But most of all, she isn’t afraid of letting people know what she’s done, there’s none of that false humility, that “I don’t like to promote myself” garbage. She’s willing to make people aware of her work, and all of these things fall under the category of things that just aren’t that easy. But it’s that combination that has made Roxane Gay one of the strongest voices we have in literature today. It’s a task that might look impossible from the starting line, but I assume once you start running, there’s no looking back. It’s the best plan of action for any writer out there today, and along with her writing, another thing you could learn from Roxane Gay.

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