Thursday, May 30, 2013

BLOWBACK OF THE DEAD 2: The Demon-Driven Are Anything But Lazy

I often thought of the bolded part of George Orwell’s quote below while I was thrashing through the last chapters of Bleeding Kansas. As fictional sage Roseanne Roseanna Danna was fond of saying “I thought I was a-gonna die!” Still, the context of Orwell’s observation is worth putting out there. The following is from the final paragraph of Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Why I Write,” probably the most candid and honest essay ever composed on the subject:

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality.

I take issue with the “lazy” part. Vain and selfish I will own, and I was lazy for the longest time. But I define “lazy” as coming up with one Great Concept after another, writing what I thought would be exquisite examples of said Concept—and then letting them all sit. Which is what I did. Which is what a lot of wannabe writers do.

Lazy people finish nothing. Two years ago I thought I’d get clever and write endings to all the novels and non-fiction books I wanted to write. I’d write the endings, then connect the beginnings to the endings. Genius! 

So I wrote one ending for one novel. That novel still sits on the back-burner. Although the ending I wrote was the ending I’d had in mind for decades for the story (I started it in 1982) I realize it’s not going to survive intact once I get going with  it again. And even if it does, it doesn’t matter because as of right now the book still isn’t finished.

When people learn I’m writing a book, I’ll hear cracks along the lines of, “So do you sleep on a couch next to the thing some nights like I’ve heard some do?” (I’ve done this maybe twice over the years. I prefer my bed.) “So do you obsess over your story all the time, even if you’re doing something else?” (Yes. The deal with any kind of creative person worth his or her salt is the Current Project is always on their mind. Always. They wouldn’t finish otherwise.) (NOTE: This is why we’re not taking on your pet project, even though you’re convinced your Great Idea will make us both money, if we’ll only commit to writing it. If you think so highly of your Great Idea, then you’ll do it.) Most people have a general understanding of what it takes to finish writing a book, any book. But when it comes to actually making it happen, they can’t imagine themselves putting themselves through any sort of inconvenience whatsoever to do it.

Now that I’ve started refitting my prototype novel The Resilient (UPDATE: this became Grace Among the Dead) for inclusion in The Saga of the Dead Silencer, trilogy, I’m trying to find ways of completing my projects that don’t involve putting such untenable strain on my physical and mental health. Although the idea of keeping a strict schedule is anathema to my very being, I need to work out a general plan that involves regular exercise and better sleeping habits.

I figure I’ll be a couple of books in before I find a groove. And it will take work to find that groove. Indeed, and I will find that groove only when I fully commit to doing thus.

All I’ve done is written two novels in the zombie apocalypse genre. Nothing epic, and certainly not classic. But I put what I’d had at the time into them. One of them, the first one I wrote, still needs to be reworked. (Hence my current project.) But I’ve done them. And I will do more. How about you? What’s in your portfolio, oh Great White Hope of Modern Literature? 

Wait, wait, let me guess: Disaffected young scion of upper middle class/professional class family goes to his family reunion. Upper middle class family drama ensues. Because nobody feels pain like disaffected upper middle class people in conflict with their own. Sure, it’s been done. But your story is special because, well, it just is. 

The hell of it is you’ll probably get published, because only upper middle class kids get professional class jobs in big publishing houses, and they’ll relate. Check out the Books section of any given Sunday paper on any given week, and you’ll likely see a favorable review of just such a book because only upper middle class/professional class kids get jobs writing for newspapers (which is a big reason why they’re dying and I don’t mourn their passing). There’s one coming out every week. But the bigger hell of it is, you still have to finish your book! Sorry about that, Snowflake. No one can do that for you.

Writing Bleeding Kansas and The Resilient was like a long bout of illness. But the only way out of illness is through it. You have to beat the thing. 

Am I vain? Of course. Selfish? It goes with being vain, so what? But lazy? Not quite.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work. 

Related: BLOWBACK OF THE DEAD: On Composing Violent and Disturbing Literature and Its Effects Upon One Man Who Writes It