Part of how you know you’re a writer is that… when you don’t write, you feel like less of yourself.
Of course, another big part of knowing you’re a writer is that, well, you write things.
But that first piece feels more about who I’ve been lately. I read things on artistic pursuits sometimes. Pieces written by authors, comedians, moviemakers, actors, etc. They talk about many of the things they do to become accomplished in their fields. A lot of the time for writing, it’s about how you have to write something every day, and just keep working on it all the time. Otherwise you’ll never finish, or you’re not really a writer, etc.
This brings to mind a timely example. George R.R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, who’s also partly responsible for the quality HBO show Game of Thrones, based on the same book series. Martin is older and overweight, and there’s fuss about him not being able to finish the book series. There’s been talks and snipes back and forth, including by Neil Gaiman, that “George Martin is not your bitch“, and that authors are not contractually obligated to provide you with the book you want to read now, or spend every waking moment of your life writing it. And it brings him to say this:
Some writers need a while to charge their batteries, and then write their books very rapidly. Some writers write a page or so every day, rain or shine. Some writers run out of steam, and need to do whatever it is they happen to do until they’re ready to write again. Sometimes writers haven’t quite got the next book in a series ready in their heads, but they have something else all ready instead, so they write the thing that’s ready to go, prompting cries of outrage from people who want to know why the author could possibly write Book X while the fans were waiting for Book Y. – Neil Gaiman
I think I fall into that very first sentence, personally. I spend a lot of time, to borrow from Gaiman, charging my batteries. This consists of listening to lots and lots of music, watching movies, reading occasionally (though I admit, I don’t read nearly as many novels as I should – which is terrible), and otherwise doing regular life stuff. Every so often, I’ll write a chapter or two here or there, or I’ll work on the outline of the book. I’ll eyeball the dry erase boards I have mounted on my walls with notes about upcoming chapters that need to be rewritten or mercilessly edited. Sometimes I’ll daydream about the characters, or when I feel too detached from the story as a whole, I’ll try to get into the headspace of the characters all of a sudden, and worry about how I’m not a writer anymore, and that I’m terrible, and incapable of writing fiction anymore.
I admit, concerns like this are agony. It makes me feel like less of a man – and even worse, less than the man that I am. I pride myself on being a writer, and being passionate about it. To dwindle so many days away not writing makes me feel… inferior. And things are made worse when I hear quotes from established writers who speak of writing as their 9 to 5 job, and something they do every single day like clockwork. Michael Chabon, for example, talked about it as something he does that requires routine, and that you can’t just wait for inspiration to hit.
In the past, on previous drafts of VALENTINE, and the novels before, I often feel I’m connecting to the story even when not typing words on a page. Then, I can write the whole thing in a few weeks, or a month or two. I’ve written two of the (now four) drafts of VALENTINE in two different summers. Each time, it gets better. But I also feel, each time it gets better because of the time between. I grow and experience more in the time between revisions – I learn. I wonder sometimes if being young, still finding my voice, still finding my place in life, even, is a just excuse for supposedly relying on an amateur’s technique – inspiration – to get it done. But even looking forward – if my dream were to come true, if I could get an agent and get a book published – I wonder for myself if I’ll ever be the sort of man who treats writing a novel like an old job, sitting in my home office and working from 9 to 5 in my chair, writing words on a page or conducting research. I don’t know that that will ever be me.
Writing still feels fresh to me when it comes. But I don’t necessarily think that it’s because I’m “new” to it, when I’ve been writing for over a decade. I think the rush comes from the sense of wonder and excitement – the fact that it’s not an obligation, and rather something that feels infinite, and without limitations or possibilities. It’s a surge of adrenaline still when inspiration comes. I know that it’s not profitable to spend 8 to 10 months of the year waiting for work to come for 2 – but I try to envision what my life would be if I really treated writing as a “desk job”, and traded in the late nights and the summer afternoons for writing a chapter at 9 AM on a Monday morning after the newspaper, and between sips of coffee. I don’t know that that’s me.
And I don’t know if that means I’m just a silly amateur or not, destined to never be published, never be profitable.
I take some comfort in Neil Gaiman’s words, though. Some writers speak about the craft of writing as if it’s set in stone, and that you’re not a writer unless you write a page every day and really push all the time for it. But I know that even those days that I don’t put a word to the page, I’m still a writer – because even those days I’m not writing a chapter of VALENTINE, I miss it, and I think about it, until I find myself aching to do it. And then I do.