So the next book, which is titled Thunderbird, is done and moving through the steps in publishing. The cover is ironed out, the interior is done, and the kindle version is being tested and tweaked. It’s entering the phases of waiting on robots and meatgrinders to finish churning on what I gave them so I can approve the output and push it live, or make changes and wait another 12-296 hours for things to get stuck in a queue. But, all of that’s good, and aside from all of the publicity stuff on the horizon I don’t want to deal with, this lets me shift my mind back to writing, and to the next book.
The next book – that’s always a tough one. Each time I finish the current book, I do a post-mortem and try to figure out what went right and what went wrong, so I can figure out what should be next. I don’t write genre fiction, so it’s not a matter of saying “what crazy adventure or sinister villain is Dirk Johnson, Vampire Gunslinger going to get into next time?” And I’ve given up on the modernist semi-autobiography stuff, so I’m not looking at a specific era of my life to strip-mine for ideas. It’s usually a matter of thinking about form, and what container will be used to pour my ideas into to shape them into the linear thing we call a book. And that’s always hard.
I don’t like traditional story structure. I know you’re supposed to use it, and every self-publishing site talks about how it’s *required* for you to follow some plot arc of rising and falling action and blah blah blah. If I was trying to write the next Wool, I would pay attention to that stuff. But I’m not. And you shouldn’t. If you want to make white bread because being in Kroger is important to you, then by all means, make white bread. But that’s not why I write.
I recently finished reading the JG Ballard Conversations book by the fine folks over at Re/Search, and there was an answer JGB gave during a Q/A for a book tour that really grabbed me. It’s this:
“I’ve always assumed that for the imaginative writer, the exercise of the imagination is a sort of necessary part of the way the central nervous system functions. This separates the imaginative writer from the realistic, naturalistic writer in a very important sense. […] It seems as if the imaginative writer’s nervous system needs to run a continuous series of updates on the perception of reality. And just sort of living isn’t enough — one feels one needs to remake reality in order for it to be meaningful.
This. This. This. This.
I started writing in 1993. I mean, I always wrote, but that’s the point where I got a notebook and a pen and decided I was going to stop trying to play bass guitar and stop trying to write video games and stop trying to… whatever the hell I was trying to do twenty years ago, and really try to dedicate myself to getting the thoughts out of my fucked up head and onto paper. I was chronically depressed, didn’t know who I was or what I was doing, but had this idea that I needed to process what was going on in my mind, and going to group therapy or trying to date the right person or take the right meds was not going to do it. I didn’t know if I was going to write science fiction or romance or journalism or kid’s books; I didn’t think about money or career or the publishing game or becoming famous or rich or any of that. I just knew I needed to write.
And what happened is that I became addicted to writing. I did it every day, at first forcing myself, but then turning to it as a way to process my feelings, and exercise my imagination. I didn’t do it as a form of work or craft, but as a method of therapy, and expression. I did write some of that modernist creative nonfiction stuff about my life, with mixed success, but it wasn’t until I started exploring the fringes of experimentalism, when I started reading guys like Mark Leyner and Raymond Federman, that I found ways to transfer my subconscious onto a page in a way that worked. And when I successfully do that, I think it not only produces a product that’s different than other stuff out there, but it makes me feel more complete as a human being, probably in the same way that building a boat out of raw lumber helps someone find themselves. It’s very much a “journey not the destination” thing, but completing these projects and moving on to the next one helps me benchmark my progress.
On the days I can belt out a solid thousand or two words that works, I feel great. On days when stupid appointments and unplanned emergencies eat up my time and prevent me from getting to the computer, I feel like total shit. I’ve tried taking time off between books, time to go wander the town or just play bass and fuck off with video games, and I can’t do it. I know it’s supposed to be helpful with writer’s block, and I do get crippling writer’s block, especially right after projects, but taking time away like that is like when you are forced to wake up every hour or so, and you never enter REM sleep and give your brain that time to heal or regenerate or process or whatever the hell REM sleep is supposed to do. I feel like something in my subconscious is lethally gone, and I can’t sit still. Even if I have no idea what I am going to write, I have to write. Even if nothing is going on in life except 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, a couple hours of dumb TV, and a few hours of showering, shitting, shaving, and cleaning up cat puke or whatever, I still need to find something to write about.
I don’t write to sell books. I don’t write to further my literary career or hob-nob to a bigger publisher or better bragging rights or a more prestigious magazine to pick up my stories. I hope some of you do check out my writing and maybe it entertains you. But if this was a Twilight Zone episode where I was asleep in a bank vault during a nuclear war and the only one alive, the first thing I’d do (after breaking into a LensCrafters and making 20 backup pairs of glasses) would be to find a pen and a notebook and keep writing. I don’t write to sell. I don’t write to feed a publishing machine. I write because I write.