Monday, July 15, 2013

How I Didn't Stop Feeling Guilty About Not Doing Nothing

A writer needs time to do nothing. To wander. To think. To allow silly, stupid, half-formed scenarios to pop up in his head -- to twist the scenarios around a few times, then make Silly-Putty shapes from them. A writer needs time to stick his (or her) hands in his (or her) pockets, bellow out, "Awww f*ck it!" and take a walk down a shaded street she (or he) has never walked down before. A writer needs time --

-- But not too much time. Sometimes doing nothing is a way to escape the inevitable. Escape briefly, if you must. But before long someone (even yourself) needs to kick you in the cajones (or equivalent antomy) because no matter how long you wait, the inevitable isn't going anywhere.

In the meantime, "downtime" may be "uptime," if it leads to something interesting -- some potential future project you may not have considered before.

I've been reluctant to post anything for nearly two weeks because I felt like I really haven't done anything other than muddle around, sit in libraries, take down books I'm not supposed to be reading and otherwise waste my time.

Facebook is like a social stock ticker, and as such it is just as addicting, granted you have the money to make the comparison valid. So I said: "Hey, you really need to post something, Mr. I-Need-to-Have-a-Blog Guy.  So tell the world what you haven't been doing when you were supposed to be doing something."

And I couldn't. Because in between all that time I was supposed to be doing nothing, I edited the eighteenth chapter of my novel, The Va-va-va VOOM!, which is going to need a new editor (due to circumstances beyond my control -- I better make it look as good as I possibly can, and finish that outline I promised that former editor a while back). And it wasn't easy -- as I may have mentioned before, I'm pushing myself in this novel to do more action scenes, and do them tightly, move them quickly, and do them without so many crappy, dead sentences. I already cleaned up the seventeenth chapter. I read it over today, while sitting in the Panera Bread in Wimette, and it didn't suck as much as I thought it did.

I also wrote an Afterword for a mini e-book I've been working on, explaining a little bit about how I came to write "Surfaces" and "The Ambiguities."

I also pumped out a few thousand words more on an accompanying piece for another e-book that will include "Auteur Theory," "The Cthulhu Orthodontist" and "Where We Go." I'm not liking that one, because it's turning into a memoir, and I don't really think any readers want to know that much about anything I write.

I've also been fiddling with covers and titles and . . . Hey! I thought this was going to be a simple matter of putting this junk into a doc and "making book," so to speak -- like I'm trying to do a careful job! What's with that?

And then, while in the same Panera, I worked a little on "Agent," or whatever I end up calling it, in a scene where I needed to look up some Henry James, so I actually had a reason for going through the shelves at the library and look up a quote from "The Middle Years."

All of this is not to say that I haven't been wasting some time, but at least I've been wasting that time in interesting ways. I got stuck reading a fascinating essay today by Alfred Bester, "My Affair with Science Fiction," where he describes part of the inspiration that went into his writing The Stars My Destination, and a great account of his "demented" meeting with John W. Campbell.

And, at one library or another, I've spent time reading Henry Adams, Isaac Asimov, Edgar Pangborn, Neal Stepehenson, D. F. Jones and Jospeh Epstein. A writer might do worse.

While driving around through ravine territory in Highland Park and Glencoe, I worked out what I needed to do in the nineteenth chapter of VOOM!

The other week, while taking the Metra downtown, I stared at freight cars sitting on a side track and realized that all the research I'd done on boxcar ladders could have been accomplished if I'd just opened my eyes and looked out the window as I rode into the city.

So, as much as I would like to say I feel guilty about having wasted so much time, I'm finding that I haven't wasted enough time to say that -- though I feel guilty about it all the same.

That's what writers do when they're not writing.

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