The thing you are most vulnerable to

Union Square subway transept (Triumphant On The Level Of Alexander The Great) ©MAIERMOUL
Union Square subway transept (Triumphant On The Level Of Alexander The Great) ©MAIERMOUL

Not writing is more of a psychological problem than a writing problem. All the time I’m not writing I feel like a criminal.

Actually, I suppose that’s probably an outmoded phrase, because I don’t think criminals feel like criminals anymore. I feel like criminals used to feel when they felt guilty about being criminals, when they regretted their crimes. It’s horrible to feel felonious every second of the day. Especially when it goes on for years. It’s much more relaxing actually to work. Although I might not strike you as languid, I’m much more relaxed than when I wasn’t writing. I’m much cheerier, I’m definitely much happier.

Writing is so hard. Why would you be a writer if you weren’t really good at it? If you could be anything else, why would you be a writer?

People who are meant to become real writers are marginal enough already. Why else would they want to be writers? The only way someone can see something is by being outside it. A person who fits into the culture, who is truly acceptable to a society, would never become a writer in the profound sense of that word.

INTERVIEWER

This all sounds so difficult. Why do you do it? What does it give back?

LEBOWITZ

The rewards of any warrior. The word that best describes my feeling of having written is triumphant—triumphant on the level of Alexander the Great. Having overcome your worst fear, the thing you are most vulnerable to, that is the definition of heroic.

Also, it’s such a worthwhile human activity. The most.

When I’m writing it’s the only time I feel all right. It’s the only time I feel justified. Whenever I am doing anything else, which is most of the time, even if it is not something like robbing a bank, I feel felonious. Writing is what I’m supposed to be doing.

Fran Lebowitz, interview The Paris Review