Late this summer my wife did one of those things we can rely on good partners to do: she made a devastatingly perceptive comment that caused me to re-evaluate my life. She said “you don’t talk about writing anymore.” And, of course, she’s right: I used to natter on endlessly about it. Her words stayed with me, and a train of thought (slowly) followed as I increasingly ineptly tried to ignore some pretty obvious facts.
I haven’t been writing much lately.
I haven’t been writing daily for a couple years.
I haven’t set a meaningful writing goal for years.
I have fallen out of touch with most of the writing world.
I have done other things than writing. Some of them have been valuable, rewarding, or interesting, but they have not, at the end of the day, been writing. “Background material” and “research” don’t count if you don’t fucking write. I’ve gotten majorly distracted before, and I didn’t write much for the better part of seven years. This go-round was shorter, but let’s look at some data…
That’s not every piece of fiction I’ve written, because I wasn’t about to go through my piles of notebooks. Lots of starts and scraps there, but they wouldn’t show a different trend. The 2008 dip in numbers of new things started & finished occurred while I was deep in the throes of novel-writing, so perhaps not surprising. (I probably should have labeled “Started” as “Started & abandoned” for clarity.) The 2012 dip I attribute to complications arising from a death in the family and to a period of intense activity at my day job. Not coincidentally, 2012 is when I started taking art classes, reading about art technique, and drawing or painting… almost daily.
Blogging also declined substantially in 2012, at least in part due to my abandonment of the old blog, but the level of activity at my day job also had a part, I think. I cut back on blogging in order to give myself time for more “real” writing, and that didn’t have the intended effect. Not included are social media postings, which I don’t count, even if some creative thought may have gone into them. Whatever the reason, I wrote fewer words. Put it all together, and what do you get?
There is a trend. I’ve clearly been trying to reverse this, in terms of starting more pieces, but they haven’t been making it to “finished.” None of this is new information, and I’ve been uneasy about my writing for some time, but seeing it charted is bracing. The current fetish for stats and quantification in the humanities has real problems, from the practical to the political, and numerical data ought not always carry the day, but it drives home the truth of what I have been thinking and my wife has been more or less gently saying for some time: I haven’t been writing much lately. Writer’s block looks different to different people, and I don’t know if that’s quite an accurate term to describe where I’ve been, but it’s close enough.
This year I’ve come to grips with the fact that it’s possible for me to fail at writing, even by the lights of modest and circumscribed goals. That I could stop writing entirely, crushed under the daily grind and lack of “success.” As a child, I wanted to be J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, and so on, but it’s time to consider other yardsticks of productivity and success. I write relatively slowly. Being a librarian is a good gig, and it provides stimulation and stability that I need. I don’t have to move to Paris, write forty novels, or spawn an entire branch of fiction. One of my literary heroes died in poverty, suffered a curtailed lifespan, left behind a fairly modest body of work… and he has lit a thousand fires of the imagination.
Over the last couple years, I have allowed myself to become distracted. I have ignored my life’s great dream.
What did I accomplish in 2013?
You can see the numbers above, but, in short, I published “How Rare Are Light and Life” at The Lovecraft eZine, and I sold “Her Sweet Solace” for reprint in a forthcoming Steve Berman anthology, Handsome Devil: Tales of Sin and Seduction. I stayed in contact, though not as much as I would have liked, with my old writing confederates, each of whom I’m happy to see have had successes of late. Among others, Berry put out a new collection, Jeff has had some modest success, Jesse has new projects on tap, Kathleen’s first novel just came out, Molly’s got a sweet collection coming out, Orrin went freelance and is kicking out the jams, and Selena continues to steampunk prominently and with the best of them.
Spending time talking writing with friends new and old has helped in figuring out what constitutes writerly success and happiness. At my day job, I’m cheered to have friends like Tom De Haven and Gregory Kimbrell, each of whom are inspirations and good colleagues. Gregory’s a poet who also works at the library, and our proximity means we get to have irregeular tête-à-têtes about writerly things in passing, though we’re as prone to talk old Sci-Fi movies as writing.
In May I had the pleasure of finally meeting a writing friend of long standing, Paul Stolp. Paul and I met online while I was in library school (he’s also in the biz), and though we were both in the Seattle metro area, we never got together in person. I moved to Richmond, time passed, and my visits home tend to be packed already, from seeing family & friends to visiting old haunts. This go-round, I made time, and we spent several hours together at the Elysian Brewery. Paul’s read, critiqued, and supported my fiction since I “got serious” about writing. His interests overlap with mine, ranging from King to Carver to Plath, and he knows his horror in film and fiction. Our visit was that wonderful experience of meeting for the first time with someone who already knows your heart.
What’s the plan for 2014?
- Write at least 100,000 words of completed or truly “in progress” fiction rough drafts by December 31, 2014. That’s 400 words a day spread out over 250 days… or whatever configuration. It’s two NaNos (though I don’t NaNo). I can do it. When I’m done? I’m free to do whatever I want: watch Kurosawa films or Scooby-Doo, binge on aerosol cheese, become a rabid Wikipedia editor, whatever. If I can make 100,000, there should be enough momentum built up for me to keep going, but if not? No guilt, just bacon and bourbon.
- Place six pieces of fiction for publication. That’s half of my total publications to date or forthcoming, but it also doesn’t seem like an unreasonable goal. I know how to write, I write reasonably well, and I know how to submit manuscripts. If I get even halfway there, I’ll be back to where I was in 2009, which I’d count a victory in and of itself.
- Get back to blogging. My blogging faltered along with the rest of my writing. Getting the words flowing again, however it happens, is forward motion.
- Read at least two books per month. I am a more productive writer when my head is in Story-land, and my reading has fallen off to something like a book a month, or less. Even if I’m re-reading old favorites, I need more prose floating through my brain.