a journal of observations, obsessions and inspirations

musings on the artist's life

Posted in: Writing

Writing Books – not exactly the “glamorous life”

How’m I supposed to explain it to my friends? I mean, that was me, the one who swore I’d never put myself through the anti-social agony, the jigsaw-puzzle-from-hell nightmare, the mano a mano word-wrangling that is writing another book.

People tell me the life of an author is “glamorous,” which I’m gonna say can only be in that really puzzling category of someone else’s job always seeming more interesting than your own. Writing a book. Everyone wants to do it—right? Okay, you want the real story? I’ll tell you my story.

The first thing you need to know, is it’s a battle. “Writing is easy,” someone said, “you just stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood appear on your forehead.” Gene Fowler said that, and clearly, he knows. Once I get through the five early stages—you know, denial, anger, bargaining, grieving, acceptance—then I give up trying to push the idea completely out of my life. I start imagining this time, it might be better. I must’ve learned something from the first book, I’ve matured. And the one that makes me really laugh? I can balance this with the day job and still have a normal life.

I can explain this to my friends. People change their minds. How embarrassing can it be, really? Besides, the first few months are exhilarating, remember? The race to get it on paper—on screen, into the keyboard, whatever—it’s a rush. A kick. It’s better than doing drugs. (That’s a good line. I wonder if the buzz, the electric-tingly-warmth washing across my skin like the tide coming in under a storm warning, the confidence-arrogance-triumph-joy feeling of being on a high, on a roll, in the zone of creating is anything like drugs. How could it be? But what if you know what this is like and then you can’t get it again? Don’t you go through withdrawal, break out in hives, get desperate, fantasize about breaking into an ATM, no wait, something simpler—stealing the bingo money—to go buy some drugs and find out if it’s the same?)

Okay, I’m back. See, that’s the kind of weird tangent I go off on all the time. Chasing butterflies and crossing county lines so I end up in another color on the map, face to face with the pockmarked troll living under the bridge who roars his displeasure at passers-by. We writers call this research. “No, don’t worry about me, I’m just researching my book…” “Gotta go do some more research…” Let me tell you, there’s always more research.

So. Research dominates my life. I dig through files all weekend, read background material over lunch, track people down and ask a zillion questions, think a lot. Am I remembering something or making it up? Google is my new best friend. I worry about printing out too many unrelated articles instead of going paperless. I look up more words than I ever did before, when I used to just pretend I knew what all of them meant. Now I have to look them up in French or Farsi too, and zut! alors! some imaginary machine gets unplugged in my head, like the clicking beads of an abacus, calculating calculating calculating how I can work them into the essay.

Now the book has some tangible form, and I’m into the just-get-through-the-day phase. Is it humanly possible to do this? Oh yeah, now I remember why I said I’d never do this again. Trust me, it gets worse. I should’ve bought stock in Excedrin. Sleep becomes a rare commodity as I stay up too late and get up too early to carve out book time. Long before reaching a compromise point between structuring the book and executing the book, I’ve become a social recluse, my time claimed for generating email, experimenting with layouts, manipulating image files, creating the index, answering email, reveling in the ah-ha moments… and writing. Which means rewriting. Rewriting again, and then re-rewriting as the book project morphs into some malevolent moving walkway drawn by Pixar animators, daring me to keep pace.

Addicting? Oh yeah. But glamorous? You gotta be kidding me.