Friday, February 24, 2006

I've Been A Writer All My Life. So Why Can't I Write?

This is going to be an uncomfortable combination of Quertermous' confessional and Joe Konrath's hard-headed business model. If you decide to skip today's Planet of Angst, I won't be offended.

Yesterday, Joe casually let it drop that he writes a novel in 30 days. Now Joe approaches this as a business, and he's right, it is a business. He's crafting a product for a market and then selling the bejesus out of it. Good for him.

I can't do that. It's not that I'm an artist. There are artists in this business and I refrain from naming them only because of the names I'll miss. You know who they are. But that's not me. I tap dance, at best, and lately I've had two left feet.

I can't write.

In the past year I've written the first act of a horror collaboration that didn't work, I don't know why, but I could hear the disappointment in my agent's voice. I wrote a film treatment that's with Lion's Gate but we've already heard it "doesn't have enough scare points." For a full year I've been within ten pages of finishing a medical thriller I'm ghosting, and I can't seem to write the damn ending. I don't know why. I've never had this problem before. I've always scoffed at writer's block. No more.

In the past week things have been better. Tribe gave me a chance to put something up over at his place. Bryon has accepted a short story for this summer's Demolition. I have been working on the ghost assignment and the new novel, the one that's been with me for three years plus, but it's like walking through wet concrete.

I can't shake this black fear that whatever I write won't be good enough, that my first book was also my last, that my edge is succumbing to my age, that I'm not hard-headed enough for the business or hardboiled enough for the art.

I don't do this for the money. I don't do this because I have any insight into the human condition. I do this because I'm a writer. So I keep plugging away, page by page, like an infantryman on a long slog, I put one foot in front of the other, not even sure where I'm going except forward.

I'm sorry for airing all this personal stuff in public. I'm usually a suck-it-up kind of guy and I'm sure every one of you has something better to do. So next week, I promise, the tap shoes go back on. Today, I'm going to work.


Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey David,

Maybe you could try giving your characters a day off. Write them into another scene, another story, maybe even another genre. The break might recharge all of you.


JD Rhoades said...

So I keep plugging away, page by page, like an infantryman on a long slog, I put one foot in front of the other, not even sure where I'm going except forward.

That's how it gets done. I go through the same thing, all the time. "I can't do another one, I don't know where this is going, why did I ever think I could do this..."

Then I contemplate a life of not doing this and it gets me back to work.

Lori G. Armstrong said...

I spoke to the last half of the high school English classes today and one girl asked: "So, if you're not making any money, and there isn't a guarantee of a next contract, why DO you write?" Wow. I honestly had to think about an answer besides stupidity. I don't pretend what I write makes me an artist. I hate having to deal with the business end. There are days when I don't think I'll ever be able to string a decent sentence together and that my life would be easier if I didn't have this stupid need to write. How about the paranoia when things aren't going well in my new WIP and I can't sleep, or when things are going well and I still can't sleep? What if the book sucks and no one reads it? What if the book rocks and no one reads it? I doubt I'll ever feel confident about anything in this business, and I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one...Thanks for foregoing the tap dancing routine today - sometimes we just need to hear Taps.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Seems to me that testicle-crippling doubt is an occupational hazard of writing. I've had it plenty, and I haven't even got the pressure of actually having anything published.

I think it's because writing isn't so much work as discovery. Every single story has to be discovered, and that's a helluva lot harder than, well, most jobs.

But why do anything else? As they say in England, writing is the dog's bollocks.

Which means it's good.

secretdeadartist said...

This is what happens to people in their 50's. They know they're running out of time, they know they'll never get it all done, they know that... well you get the idea.
The best advice I can give you is to finish something. Keep writing the short stories, they are very good and you can get them done. keep woking on the other stuff, it'll end up finishing itself one day, it just probably won't be as soon as you want it to be. Keep forgetting that your birthday is coming up and that you're getting old.
Now stop whining and get to work or I'll have to come over there and beat the crap out of you playing pool. Which I may do anyway.

Duane Swierczynski said...

Dusty's advice rings true for me, too: could you actually imagine not doing this? If the answer is no, you're in the right business.

Sci-fi genius Robert Sheckley had this great trick. He set himself a 1,000 word goal per day (or something like that). If the words weren't flowing, he'd force himself type nonsense like:

Yep, here I am, typing this because I can't think of a single idea. Boy, am I lousy. Not one thing. Not a single idea. Not a decent useable sentence...

And so on. Soon, the torture was so great, Sheckley was more than happy to resume his real story.

I've never done this, but I have set a daily word count goal. And it's worked, because if you force yourself to do 1,000 words a day, good or bad, you'll soon establish it as a habit. And it'll be easy to satisfy the great (Joe R.) Lansdale Law of Writing:

Writing = ass + chair

Hang in there, buddy. You'll get through this.