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12/23/2003 Archived Entry: "Writer hell"

I JUST SPOKE WITH A WRITER YESTERDAY who said working on his latest book had been fun. I damn near called the little men in the white coats on him.

Fun??? Everybody knows that writing (especially book writing) is sheer, bloody misery. We know that because generations of writers have told us so, in grim and harrowing detail -- usually right before they drown themselves or die from the effects of some form of habitual self-destructiveness, be it whiskey, cigarettes, reckless driving, risky sex, or heroin.

Okay, you gotta consider the source. Most writers, for all that they whine about their travails, would probably not trade their trade for the opportunity to work 60 hours a week on the graveyard shift in a dog-food factory. There's a certain amount of self-indulgence in all their hand-wringing & ya gotta take it with a grain of salt (preferably not followed by a writerly shot of tequila). And writers, sitting at their desks all day communicating, have more opportunity to tell us about their miseries than, say, a coal-miner does.

That said, however, writing is a frickin' miserable occupation. And at this allegedly jolly holiday time, I'm in agonies of awareness of that fact.

I'm three months behind on a book that just won't come together. The book's due any day, and aside from some concept work, I haven't got a useful word on paper. To be honest, even the best of the concept work isn't my own, but came from Clairefiles forum participants and from webmistress Debra and her husband Torry.

Some books are like this. The pain is like the world's longest labor. It's necessary. It's your unconscious's way of telling you the book you're trying to write isn't the best book you could write & you've got to change your approach. So your "under-mind" fights you -- and it doesn't fight fair. Instead of coming out cleanly and saying, "Look, that idea doesn't work; try something different," your brain inflicts you with bouts of overwhelming drowsiness, with urgent needs to get up right now and put that spoon in the dishwasher,

with compulsions to go to Google right now and find out whether Kathy Bates won an Oscar in 1990 for "Misery" (she did), with desires to read the labels on cleaning products under your sink, and worst of all with crushing self-doubts. When the self-doubts go on long enough, they can turn into veritable self-loathing -- hours, days, weeks, of cursing yourself as a fraud, of telling yourself any good work you ever did was a fluke, is over, is history, sayonara to being a good writer. That's where I am now.

What's really difficult is having no clue of the outcome. Sometimes the very best writing comes out of this kind of struggle. Sometimes these are just necessary pains while you elminate the junk concepts and find the Great Idea or the Right Tone or whatever you're seeking. But sometimes ... well, you really just don't have that book in you.

An additional complication -- or maybe it's even the central complication in this case -- is that this book is another "how to" for freedom lovers. And although I'm full of little tips and tricks and one big rock of stubbornness when it comes to opposing tyrants, I don't have that Big Answer everyone is looking for -- the answer that tells how to finally overcome tyranny and restore liberty. And I'm seeking that Answer so I can put it in the book. And that's impossible. The very best I can hope to do is pass along some ideas for how to monkeywrench and endure until liberty can be restored. But who wants to read a book full of handy tips on endurance???

Recently I've also lost some of my last remaining shreds of hope that libertarians will ever actually act effectively for liberty. My suspicion is that even if I came up with something brilliant, about six people would use the info, while another 5,000 would argue about it. And another dozen or so would distribute illegal copies of the book while inventing spurious (but clever-sounding) intellectual justifications about "their" property right to my months of brainwork. So while struggling to find the "right" book in my heart, I also feel the struggle is futile -- and that job in the dog-food factory would look pretty tempting, if I hadn't stubbornly given up my social security number and closed the gate to all conventional living-earning.

A cynical writer would just go ahead, throw something on paper and say, "WTF, all I care about is whether or not I make money on it." I've reached the point of wishing I were that cynical. But I don't have it in me.

Writing this cynical rant might help me get through these writerly doldrums. So that's why I inflicted it upon you. Thanks for listening. Blogging is cheaper than therapy and probably just as effective.

Oh yeah. Happy holidays, too.

Posted by Claire @ 09:18 AM CST

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