I wouldn’t be keeping up my end of the Friday post bargain if I didn’t tell you something right now. I’m having trouble with the latest book. Coyote Boy (the UnSullen, for those of you who keep track of such things) informs me that it’s the same trouble I have every book.
I can’t help it if it feels like different trouble every time.
Here’s the thing: the book is not doing what I wanted it to do. What I had neatly planned. I have reached the point, as Philip Pullman so eloquently puts it, where I am being mugged by the book that wants to be written. The one where I realize I have 10-20K of pure wrong starting the book, and I have to throw out everything and start fresh, and maybe plug little bits of other stuff in, and ARGH.
Insert me running around screaming, feathers puffing out, fur flying.
What makes it more difficult this time around is the sheer level of personal change I’ve gone through in the last three months–changes in my status, my living space, you name it–taking up emotional bandwidth. Creating takes energy, and if that energy is being spent to maintain an even keel in the face of dire emotional stress…well, it’s got to come from somewhere, and I burn pretty close to the bone anyway. Reserves have been nonexistent, emotionally speaking, for a while now.
So, we have a problem. Lately writing is like scraping the inside of my skull with one of those things you use to get the seeds out of a pumpkin before you carve it. I have wordcount on this book I’m going to have to scrap, and I have not the faintest idea of what I’m going to do. How I’m going to work this thing or solve this problem.
What do I have going for me?
* Habit. Never have I been so glad of the habit of writing every day. Habit is either the best of slaves or the worst of masters, and right now it’s one of the few things saving me. I don’t feel right unless I put in some serious time writing each day.
* Discipline. I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I can’t. I need the money too badly. Kids gotta eat. Plus, editors and agent depending on me. I call it ‘discipline,’ but you could just as easily say I have told myself I have no choice. At this point I’m getting Yoda: There is no try. There is only do, or do not. And “do not” is not an option.
* Support network. I’m sure my editor could have lived without my email saying, “You, um, are okay with maybe not getting exactly the book we talked about a couple months ago, right? I mean, it’s still going to be the same series, and awesome, but when we last spoke I had this scaffolding and it just all crashed down around my ears. Please tell me you’re OK with this.” Or my agent could have done without my frantic call about the same thing. And that my writing partner and Coyote Boy could both do without me staring into the distance in the middle of conversations, my brain suddenly turning over a new idea and vapor-locking.
But sometimes, that’s what editors and agents and friends do. Sometimes they listen to you when you’re tearing your hair out. Sometimes they even reassure you that yes, you’ve done this before and no, the world didn’t end, and that the world ain’t gonna end this time either.
* Sheer cussedness. I’m sure you’ve figured out that the Friday posts are a way for me to keep myself on track, too. Because I am too stubborn for my own good, and dedicated to the idea of keeping my word. I refuse to admit that a book can beat me. Especially one like this.
Put this way, it seems like I have an awful lot going for me. I’m still agonizing over the book and telling myself that I do this every fricking time, that people who know me have SEEN me do it every fricking time, and that this is part of the process.
Unfortunately, this process does not give one a feeling of ease. The best one can hope for is a faint comfort. Every time I start out on the journey another book represents, I get the idea that it might be like carrying the Ring to Mordor. I’m pretty definite there will be a There, it’s the And Back Again I’m not sure I’ll pull off. I have no Gandalf, no Eagles, no Aragorn, no Legolas. I have no army or shiny palantir.
There’s just me and this keyboard. And the voices in my head. The trick of making something out of nothing is the same nerve-wracking exploit each time.
I have written over 35 novels at this point, a fair number of which are actually in print. The only ease I have acquired with the process is the faint suspicion that I’ve strapped myself to a merry-go-round full of TNT for each one and miraculously, each time come away whole. Maybe a bit singed, but essentially intact. I would be lying, friends and Readers, if I said I expected the process to get any easier. I would also be lying if I said I didn’t think about stopping every goddamn time. It’s the same thought about stopping I have when I’m in the rollercoaster, the bar has been locked, and we’re chugging up that first long slope.
I never have that thought until it’s too late.
And now for the point of this long ramble. This is not an easy job. It gets only marginally easier when you have a few books out and familiarity with the publishing side of it. The publishing and everything else depends very simply on you and the keyboard. Nowhere to run to, baby. Nowhere to hide.
So be gentle with yourself. As far as you can, as far as whatever drives you to write will let you. If you’re looking at making a living on this merry-go-round full of TNT, first I’ll offer you my condolences. Then I’ll tell you something else: it ain’t easy, but I’m in here with you. You’re not alone.
And at the end of the day, uncertainty be damned. It’s still the job I love, the job I have no intention of quitting.
Over and out.