Tuesday, February 28, 2006

When writers don't hurt anymore

A good friend stopped writing a couple of years ago. The guy is talented, and his crime novel deserves to be published. When I'd met him about 10 years ago, he was still trying to recover from a bitter divorce. He wrote plenty of high-quality (in my opinion) noir fiction and participated actively in our writer's group. Over time he showed up less and less frequently at our group, and eventually stopped almost altogether.

So what happened? He found a girlfriend who made him happy, that's what. Life pulled him in a different direction, but love and work still left him with time to write if he wanted to. But one day he explained to me that he no longer had enough pain in his life to make him write. Anger and despair were part of his motivation to write in the first place, he said--in his novels he exacted plenty of fictional revenge on his wife, and now he feels much better.

Maybe that explains why I don't write more than I do. There is largely an absence of pain in my life. Doesn't unhappiness drive most creative writing?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Why keep writing?

Okay, my life isn't turned upside-down, but our attempts to sell our Massachusetts house and move to New Mexico have added a distraction. Several completed, unpublished novels languish on my hard drive, and my drive to complete my current tale has flagged of late. It's easy to get discouraged in the current publishing market, with ever greater numbers of writers chasing agents.

So why keep writing? Well, for me it's the challenge of putting my reluctant brain to work. It's the association and friendships formed with like-minded souls. It's the ego massage that results from seeing my work in print. Once a co-worker showed me what he called a great magazine article and asked if I had seen it. "I wrote it," I said, pointing to my byline. Then he went around the office, bragging for me. An inflated ego and a nice check too--how much better can life get? And yes, the occasional check is nice.

A couple of useful bromides: The key to finishing a novel is "ass in chair," according (possibly) to the most excellent Lawrence Block. And it's easier to fix a bad page than a blank one (source unknown).

Not long ago, I set a modest goal of writing 500 new words of fiction daily, and actually met or exceeded that quota for about a month. Now my enthusiasm for that novel has waned, which I hope is a temporary malady. Maybe the best approach is to just sit down and do it, just as one would treat a job.