Been up the Thruway, Down the Thruway

I haven’t posted in a while, for reasons not entirely within my control. Autumn is a time when I make some extra money outside of New York, and so I have less time for things like this.

But this autumn I have also neglected this blog as a symptom of the writer’s version of “Summit Fever.”

Writing a book entails an odd confluence of experiences. On the one hand, writing a book requires a lot of time, and spacing out that work is important. Including all my travel, it took me 2 1/2 years to complete the first draft of An American Song. My newest book– a novel that still required a good deal of research and structural planning– is a third the length of that project, but still it took fairly consistent work for about six months to produce a cohesive draft. I’m always amazed at stories about writers who lock themselves in rooms and pump out the words, because if I worked like that I suspect that I would both go insane and that the things I put out would be absolute garbage. I’ve always worked more like Faulkner: steadily, relentlessly, but according to a schedule that doesn’t fry my brain. Everyone needs to leave time for their own personal whiskey.

On the other hand, once I get close to finishing something, I tend to ignore such rationalities. I become consumed by the need for completion. I step up my work schedule. When I’m not working, I think about working. When I can’t work, I feel within myself a moral failing, as though I am neglecting a child. Writing a blog would be like cheating on my wife.

I flew home from Orlando on the 2nd of December. The following day I recovered. The day after that I got to work doing the “polish” edit for my novel. From that day until this past Monday when I finished that work, I was of a single mind.

If I’m honest with myself, this type of mania probably hurt An American Song, not because it affected the prose, but rather because it altered my approach to traveling. I set before myself such an enormous task that I often neglected the importance of where I was at any given moment, anxious as I was to get to the next place. This was complicated by financial concerns– I didn’t have the money, after all, to stay on the road indefinitely. Regardless, my forced pace is one reason I say at the end of the book that “I have not seen everything or even everything of anything.” I’d like to think that I did my best with the terms for study that I agreed to. But a few more hours here and a few more days there would surely have fortified my understandings of the places I saw and the people I met.

I don’t think this applies to the book I just completed. Novels are different creatures, I’ve learned. Characters either develop, transform, evolve in my mind, or they don’t. A writer never truly stops writing, after all, and if they aren’t willing– anxious, even– to “kill all their darlings,” as Faulkner put it, none of their stories would ever by heard. I’m comfortable that this newest one is ready to be heard.

Hopefully you feel the same about me.

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