Thursday, November 29, 2001
Today I returned to work on "From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6" and managed to write about 400 words in roughly five hours. Which is fairly average for me and explains (to all those who have felt the need to ask) why it takes me so long to write a novel. I expect there are oodles of witty quotes by writers on the difficulty of making the words flow, but I don't feel like digging any of them out right now, so you'll have to settle for whatever I can scrape up.
Sitting in a small and windowless room, staring at a computer screen, alone except for the voices coming through my headphones (Tanya Donelly today), trying to find the story and having found the story trying to find the words to tell it with, the right words, the only words that will do, to make it sound the way it has to sound. Have you ever fallen in a bunch of prickly pears and had to pick all those spines out of your skin afterwards? Well, it's a lttle like that. Only much more irritating. At least prickly pear spines draw blood; writing is a singularly bloodless injury.
But it pays the bills.
And I was thinking, earlier, how there's this stigma attached to "writing for money" and how odd that is, as though writing is akin to sex (another "creative" act?) and writing for money is akin to prostitution in the minds of so many people. Whoring with adjectives, so to speak. Do I give good prose? Look up the definition of "hack." So, there must be the perception that writing, like the priesthood, comes with some higher purpose in tow. Getting paid well somehow sullies the purer cause. I've heard writers dismiss something or another that they've written by explaining, "Oh, yes, I know that sucked, but I only wrote it because they paid me so much money." And then we might even forgive them a piece of crap, because we have a sensible explanation. That wasn't a real orgasm. I was only faking the plot. Dorothy Parker and F.Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner in Hollywood.
And I've lost track of the times that someone's been rattling on at me about one of my novels or short stories and I bring up The Dreaming and either their eyes glaze over or they ask, suspiciously, "Comics? Oh, really?" But then I tell them how much I get paid to write comics and suddenly that puts a whole different spin on things. "How wonderful," they say. Does this mean we think more of well-paid whores?
So, I sit in my room, which has no windows, and wonder if it's raining outside or the sun's shining, and try not to think about the fact that this is how I have to keep the bills paid, whether I feel like writing or not. How I'd better not get sick because I have no health or life insurance. "But don't you feel driven to write?" And what if I say no? What then? Is it the work or is it the author's attitude towards the work? Does it ruin it for you if I'd rather be picking pricky pear spines out of my ass? Well, I hope not.
So, this is me after a typical writing day. It is not "fun." It is rarely fulfilling. It sure as hell isn't easy. It only leaves me dreading tomorrow and all the blank space that has to be filled again.
What she lacks in enthusiasm she more than makes up for in [fill in the blank]. There. Now we're interactive.
And what's funny about all this (well, hell, I laughed) is that I can still manage to suspect that it's just something wrong with me, another way I get to play the freak, and that most writers live for the process. They find joy in the endless, lonely hours of composition. They do it for the pure artistic integrity of the thing itself, not some worldly reward. They believe they are among the luckiest people alive, because they actually get paid to make stuff up, to entertain, and surely it's better than a day job, right?
"But Cait, before you made a living as a writer, you wrote then, didn't you? Before there was any money. Why did you write then?"
Wait. I'm trying hard to remember.