This Affliction

by , under general writing, promotion, Publishing

For me, the affliction largely occurs in the very early morning before I head off to work. I get up at four AM and write for a couple of hours until it’s time for exercise, breakfast, hygiene.  Then whoopee-boy, eight hours of work in the cubicle hive!

up-too-early

My current contract has me designing interfaces for a giant corporation specializing in the manufacture of yellow heavy machinery. I spend a lot of time in conference rooms talking to teams of Bangladeshi developers and enthusiastically endorsing whatever decision the Big Guy thinks is appropriate.

As this contract runs down– it was only for a year– the Big Guy has changed because of corporate reshuffling. Much of my time is now spent with Knowledge Transfer, where I am essentially training my replacement.  There are a lot of meetings run by various people whose job seems to largely consist of making sure everybody is doing something at all times.

It’s often mind-numbing. This is not helped by my Secret Identity as the Novelist. I look at Deepesh’s overlarge wristwatch and I think of ways to kill my antagonist. I sit through a meeting about Corporate Security and think about how much TNT in a shaped charge would be required blow a turret off a tank.

Occasionally I will venture some comment  apropos of nothing just to show that I am (sort of) paying attention.

And yet I have it easy. I am divorced and my kids live in another state. I can devote all of my non-work time to writing, should I choose. And over the past year, I have indeed chosen to do this. I finished a novel, wrote two drafts of another and completed twelve short stories. I started this blog, did a series of illustrations for a local magazine and wrote a ton of poetry (some of which has appeared here).

All this extracurricular activity begs the question– WHY?  As anyone in the writing game can attest, there is very little chance of eking out even a meager living by writing fiction. And don’t tell me about Dan Brown or the degenerate Fifty Shades woman. The exception proves the rule.

I can honestly say that I have made more money as a jazz and indy rock drummer than I have from my fiction. But in drumming, regardless of the limited remuneration, I tried to act as a professional. Learn the songs, use pro gear, show up on time, practice every day. I am a pretty good drummer, though not a pro. There’s no money in it and the lifestyle is a killer.

I have the same approach to writing fiction. I read a great deal and   give a great deal of thought to every aspect of my work. I edit and re-edit and tweak individual words. I promote my book, shilling it to libraries and local bookstores, to Amazon, Goodreads and every other thing you can think of. I send out review copies. Hell, I’ve even left copies in airports.

Guess what? Even with a bunch of five-star reviews, nobody gives a shit. People love it, but it goes nowhere.

So what do I do? I write a sequel. And when that’s done, I start on a sequel to the sequel. In between, I work on my screenplay. These are all interesting stories. The novel is set in WW2, the sequel in 1948 Los Angeles. The third one starts in Alcatraz and ends in pre-revolutionary Cuba. The screenplay is about Jonestown and the Peoples Temple. Lots of research. Lots of dialog. Complex plots. Editing for clarity, editing for style, editing for effect.

WHY?

I guess the only reason is this: I need to write to have some shape and purpose in my life. I need to feel that I am doing something worthwhile, something unique. It’s great if people read it, but that’s not the goal. Throughout my life, books have played a huge role. Fictional characters can sometimes have more impact on me than people I know in real life. These fictional creations were called out the ether by some author or another.

And I love it. I love reading and I love writing. A love it more than playing music, even.

And because it’s entirely in my hands what happens in my fiction, I can hold it to an impossibly high standard. I can be proud or ashamed as the case warrants. It can never be perfected. It’s not an ego thing, exactly. In many ways it’s the opposite of that. It’s certainly not about money. I’d make more money panhandling.

I think it’s about a higher calling. I think it’s about craft. And, dear lord forgive me, it’s about art.

bily-clocks-museum

There was this pair of crazy brothers in Northern Iowa who made incredible clocks. They stuffed them all into a house. The house full of amazing clocks is there to this day, the  Bily Clock Museum.

These brothers were proud of their work, and people would come for miles to look at it. Offers to buy certain clocks were made many times. The offers were universally refused. Henry Ford himself offered a million dollars for one clock, but was likewise turned down.

These people were hard-working farmers who toiled dawn to dusk. They made astonishing clocks in what little leisure time left to them. Why? Maybe they liked what they did. Maybe they enjoyed their burgeoning mastery of an obscure art form. maybe God told them to. Or maybe the uncreated clocks cried out until they were made real.

That’s a close as I can come in answering this. It’s an affliction.

If you don’t have this affliction, this probably sounds like nonsense.

But if you have it you already understand.

 

  1. lucie

    Seriously great post.

    I immediately thought of a scene in “The Hours” where Virginia Woolf comes downstairs looking particularly vexed and says: “I have a first line.” The moment I heard it, I knew what she meant. Months of pain, doubt, writing and rewriting knowing it will probably go nowhere – despite all my energy and determination – And yet, what else can I do but write? No matter how good / bad / shitty the responses, I have to write or I won’t be me anymore.

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