The Old Gadget in the Back of the Writing Drawer

It’s so hard to even think with the news about Terry Pratchett and other things going on.

This morning after journaling (why deep things hit me after I’ve walked away from the paper I don’t know, but they do), I realized that there is this idea in my writing space that shouldn’t be there and needs to be kicked out.

I treat short stories like appetizers or amuse-bouches–experimental, intense things. I treat novels like they should not be that intense or experimental. Which means, right now, I have trouble finishing anything longer than a short story OR that I’m not ghosting, because my brain shuts down. Short stories should be appetizers; novels should be meat and potatoes.  All else is madness.

And yet my favorite writers are Lewis Carroll, Gene Wolfe, Jorge Borges, Carol Berg, Steven Brust, and, yes, Terry Pratchett.

All of them are complex writers who do not write meat and potatoes, or who started out writing not-meat-and-potatoes and gradually learned to disguise the naturally exotic dishes they were whipping up, so that the meat was liberally mixed with blood, ginger, cricket flour, and LSD.

I have come to the conclusion that it is not necessary or desireable for me to write meat and potato novels.  I, in fact, suck at it.  I do not believe that if only I tried a little harder, I would be good at it, or that if I were it would make me happy.

I was built, or made, or called, or what have you, to write weird and wonderful (and horrible!) things, carefully unfolding what we’ve decided was “normal” and revealing its secret heart. I try, in my ordinary life, to be kind and funny and a good listener, but that’s not really all I am, and if I have to only be the person that goes over well at parties, the hell with it, I’m going back to technical writing, which pays better than what most commercial writers make.

Trying to write other people’s books is like taking someone else’s prescription meds.  They may be drugs that have worked for millions, but they do not necessarily work for me.

I’m not saying I’m a great writer. Not that. Wanting to write the weird and wonderful isn’t the same as being good at it. But I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy writing for trying to be commercial.  And that’s both stupid and sad.

And I’m not saying commerical is bad.  I will study the commercial; I will read it; I will steal from it; I will love it.  I will, in fact, congratulate myself if I ever become commercial, much the same say Bob Dylan pats himself on the back for writing some actual blues now and then.  But Bob Dylan, no matter how much he wants to write the blues, is still Bob Dylan, and I’m still me.

And so, this idea that novels should be meat and potatoes, I lay you down on the heap of things that I’m taking to Goodwill later today.   Thank you for showing me a path that wasn’t mine to take.  I will cross it from time to time, I will find other wanderers and talk their ears off, I will continue to be kind and funny and a good listener inasmuch as I can.  But I have other things to do, and so off you go, with all the shirts and books and luggage and kitchen gadgets that I never got around to using and was never in love with anyway.

My only real regret is that I can’t get a receipt for you, for tax purposes.  Or post you on Craigslist.  I’m pretty sure you’re worth something, if I could have only figured out what.

Update:

Delivered a carload of stuff to Goodwill.  Secretly dropped off novilus horribilis while I was there…came home and edited the last Alice chapter for four hours.  Ahhhh, it is so nice to be free.

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1 Comment

  1. Becka

    This totally resonates with me. With my new focus on being an artist full time again I really looked at what I was doing and have embraced some truths about my work and my process as well. I don’t make quilts. I am not a quilter. I’m not a “fiber artist”. I’m not a fashion designer. All of those are wonderful things. They are not me. I don’t need to do them or be them because it’s the trendy thing to be. I need to do the stuff that I can’t not do. You too.

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