Starting To Write a Book: There Is No Agony Like It

Agatha Christie? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The acclaimed mystery writer Agatha Christie wrote more than sixty novels and sold an enormous number of copies. Yet, I was told that somewhere she had claimed that writing was agony for her. Is this possible? Would you please examine this question?

Quote Investigator: In 1977 “Agatha Christie: An Autobiography” was published posthumously. Christie described the difficulties she experienced when she was beginning to compose a new mystery story. Bold face has been added to excerpts:[ref] 1977, Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie, Part 9: Life with Max, Quote Page 458, Dodd, Mead, & Company, New York. (Verified with scans)[/ref]

There is always, of course, that terrible three weeks, or a month which you have to get through when you are trying to get started on a book. There is no agony like it. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down on a sofa, feeling you want to cry your head off.

Christie revealed that her feelings of inadequacy and fear recurred despite her long record of success:

You forget every time what you felt before when it comes again: such misery and despair, such inability to do anything that will be in the least creative. And yet it seems that this particular phase of misery has got to be lived through.

Below are one more citation and a conclusion.

In 1951 the journal “Prairie Schooner” published an article about writing titled “The First Million Words” by Lloyd M. Graves. The following passage presented the plaints of authors:[ref] 1951 Spring, Prairie Schooner, Volume 25, Number 1, The First Million Words by Lloyd M. Graves, Start Page 57, Quote Page 62, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska. (JSTOR) link [/ref]

Authors, even successful ones, do not write exclusively for pleasure. All writers “hate to write,” says Fred Litten: writing a book is “about like having a baby.” One of the prominent women writers—Agatha Christie, I think—says writing is “agony.” Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Not to write; to have written!”

I don’t swallow all these lamentations neat. I think it is largely a matter of how clearly you see what you are trying to set down. Once you get it clear, if you get it clear, the writing comes relatively easily.

So Christie’s writing process was already linked to agony by 1951. She may have made a remark of this type before here posthumous autobiography was released.

The QI website has an entry for a saying that matched the one attributed to Stevenson titled: “Don’t Like to Write, But Like Having Written”

In conclusion, Agatha Christie did write in her autobiography about the mental obstacles she faced when initiating novels, and she used the word “agony”.

(Great thanks to Jason Zweig whose inquiry about Christie led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

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