Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Yesterday, I wrote only 578 words on the presently untitled new short story. Mostly, the headache was holding me back (that thing which is now blessedly gone). But only mostly. There's also this nagging sense that I'm overextending myself, and that I'm helpless to do otherwise.
I am that most pitiable of all creatures, "the working writer." Which is to say, if I don't write, constantly, every single goddamn day that I can force myself to do so, the bills do not get paid. I have encountered, in the past decade, a very large number of people who think this would be a breeze and who claim to envy me. They have to get up and go to work, or school, or whatever, and gladly imagine the carefree existence of the artist free to pursue her every whimsy, free to set her own schedule, free to bask in the satisfaction of her glorious accomplishments. What they know would fit into a thimble, with room left over for a large cactus.
Okay. That was a snarky paragraph. But I'm trying to say something very important.
In the past twelve years, give or take a couple of months, I've produced six novels, more than sixty short stories, a novella, something like fifty scripts for DC/Vertigo, and the gods only know what all the little odds and ends would add up to. Then there's the blog; a very conservative estimate comes in at 239,743 words of blog since I started the thing on November 23, 2001 (for comparison, my longest novel, Murder of Angels, is a mere 120,625 words in length). I'll leave my private, hardcopy journals out of this. Yesterday, sitting here, trying to force the words from my mind, trying to squeeze them through the sieve of headache and exhaustion and boredom, I began thinking about the collected works of, say, Edgar Allan Poe (another "working author"). By this point, only twelve years into my writing career, I've written far more than Poe, possibly several times over. Same for Lovecraft. Same for Bram Stoker. Same for Shirley Jackson, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, William Blake, and James Joyce. A few more novels and I'll have caught up with Ray Bradbury. And, to me, that just seems wrong.
It is an extremely rare thing when an author can be astoundingly prolific without sacrificing quality, without losing her voice, without abandoning art entirely. Joyce Carol Oates has done it, and Peter Straub, and Ramsey Campbell. But it is rarer than most people imagine.
I have become an assembly line, a literary descendent of Henry Ford.
And, looking back, I know that I've yet to surrender my insistence on quality, on art, no matter the number of deadlines. I am proud of almost everything I've written. But, looking back, I'm also afraid that I can't keep this up for another twelve years. The thought of such a thing is absurd. Regardless, I may need to keep producing at this rate for another two or three decades, easy. That's almost enough to keep me from ever getting out of bed again, much less continuing the dance of my fingers across this keyboard. I may not cease to imagine, to plot, to find new characters, the weave new stories. Because my popularity is only moderate, I do not have the luxury of taking two or three years to write another novel, in order to insure that it's the best book it can be. I cannot turn down short story requests merely because I'm not interested in the theme of the anthology. I can't take a year off, just to collect my fucking addled thoughts. I cannot miss a step, or a deadline.
And sometimes, like yesterday, and today, the absurdity of it all — that I am become Sherezade and the number of nights before me cannot be numbered, but will most certainly be more than 1,001 — seems almost heavy enough to crush me flat.
Of course, I could get lucky. Perhaps Murder of Angels will top the New York Times Bestseller List, or Ridley Scott will buy Alabaster, or Daughter of Hounds will sell more copies than the last Harry Potter book, but, as they say, I'm not holding my breath.
Last night, I watched Vincente Minnelli's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
My thanks to Christopher Lee Simmons ("Sissy"), for the very wonderful Beyond the Waterworks fan site. You flatter me, and, round these parts, flattery is gold.