Thursday, June 4, 2009

In Which The Oaf Is A Crabby Fellow

This is a sample of the decorative motifs I'm going to be using at the ends of the stories in the current Swill. I've been feeling unsatisfied with my current method of creating xerographic art from my digital prints. Going to bitmap in Photoshop doesn't really work well for the inkblot pieces. But here's a new method that seems to work -- using the LiveTrace feature in Illustrator. Instead of blocky bitmaps, you get nice smooth lines and irregular shapes. Cool...

I just hope it prints properly.

It’s eight o’clock in the evening, not usually a time when I’m writing. Our cable is out for the moment so I’m using Word rather than going straight into the blog.

I’ve been thinking today. I’ve been thinking hard.

This morning when the missus and I were grocery shopping I apologized to her for being so crabby. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. She asked me why I’ve been in such a bad mood lately.

I didn’t have a good answer. So I started thinking. I like thinking. It works most of the time.

Well, of course I could blame a number of things, like the lack of music and hiking and the company of the people I do those things with. I could blame some quite ugly dramas that are going on in the extended family. But those things are outside of my control.

These are the things I can control: I’m not pleased by the way I’ve been using my time. I’m anxious about the novel. I’ve got a lot of things I ought to be doing and I’m not doing them.

I’m not a flexible person. You give me a single specific task and I will go to it and get it done. Give me an assignment, give me a deadline, and that’s where I shine. But give me four or five things that I should get done eventually? They jam in the hopper and nothing comes out.

Right now I’m working on the interior design for Swill. I’m spending three, four hours a day on it. I like the work – once the fun of the design is done, desktop publishing is simple, direct, repetitive work. I like that kind of thing. I enjoyed being a blue-collar worker, cleaning bathrooms, stuffing envelopes, moving boxes. This isn’t much different from a mental perspective.

But when I’m done with that chore, rather than get cracking on the artwork or the revisions for my novel or the short stories or doing the current and/or upcoming paleontological illustrations I’ve got due or contacting the insurance company or researching grants or sketching or posting on my blog or getting my pain pills or taking a walk, I just drift. I pace. I stare into space. I monkey around in the kitchen. I crack my knuckles and gnaw on my cuticles. I lay in bed and read trivial crap I’ve already read a dozen times. I cruise the web looking for fresh trivialities.

Time is the greatest gift I have in my life. Friends of mine, good friends, have actually gotten angry with me because they’re jealous of the time I have available to me. And I’m pissing it away.

So there’s that.

And there’s the novel. Right now I have something that is a good read. And I’m in the process of making it something a little more than that. On one level, I know this. It sounds arrogant but I know I have paid for and read bestselling novels that simply are not as good as what I’m doing. I think that while it’s a really weird, personal work in many ways it has entertainment values that could make it sell very well. I don’t think it’s literature – but I do feel that here and there it has some genuine literary merit. I should be proud of what I’m doing and in many ways I am proud.

But what I believe to be true and what I’m told by people I trust isn’t enough to put me at ease. To be blunt, I want professional recognition. I want an agent, a contract, and a check. I believe the work is capable of earning these things – but that belief is not something that gives me a sense of confidence. Instead, it’s something I have to maintain through effort and the vampire-like guzzling of praise from the people around me. Right now I am irrationally and pathetically desperate for confirmation of my abilities.

As I mentioned in recent posts, I am gearing myself up to submit the novel to an agent. But as I’ve been reading and re-reading books and internet advice on the subject, what I’m hearing is that you are a fool to show an agent anything that’s less than your best.

Right now I’m working with two writer’s groups. One has a forty-page a week limit; the other a fifteen-page limit. The book is currently a bit over three hundred pages. The critiques I’m receiving in both groups are clearly making the work of higher quality.

And I am so anxious to get the novel done and out into the world that it’s like having to pee all the time. I want to drop everything in my life, charge through it, and have it ready to go in a matter of two or three weeks.

I could do that. I have been intending to do that. But it would mean forgoing the benefit the work would gain by allowing my compadres to give me their feedback. Even if I could produce something that would be publishable, that would get an agent’s interest in that time frame, the novel still wouldn’t be as good as it would be if I were to publish it.

But my fear is that by dealing with it in dribs and drabs rather than tackling the whole thing at once, I’ll wind up blocking my creative flow in general. To be more specific, the current novel is the first volume of three. I wonder if I will be able to make myself start working on the second volume while the first is still in process.

I’ve been working on this for four years. It’s not right to say that I’ve spent four years writing it; rather, it’s taken me that long to learn how to write a proper novel. I’m afraid that it might take me another four years to write the next volume.

Which is nonsense; I have a clear outline for the third volume, I know the ending of the second volume and all that I need to do to get there, I have many scenes written for the second and third volumes, the background and characters are all in place.

But I’m afraid – let me be clear, this means I am feeling fear – that if I revise a chapter of the novel each week for the next thirty weeks that will be all the serious writing I’ll do.

So what I need to do is to take the time to do the revisions of the novel properly – to revise, let the writer’s groups see what I’ve done, and then revise again based on their advice. And it’s going to be nearly a year before that’s done.

I can’t let that keep me from working on the next volume. I can’t let it keep me from doing my other creative work and I can’t let it keep me from taking care of my personal life. It is not time to cut corners and figure out an easier way of approaching the situation; it is time to try sack up and be a fucking mensch. Time to grow up a little more.

Time to just do what I need to do.

No wonder I’m so crabby.


-W said...

Dude, if I was doing what you're doing, I'd probably be crabby too. One novel alone is fairly ambitious, it seems, but three?

You can do what I do when frozen by multiple tasks (or try to): get really really angry to the point of screaming, then pick a job, immerse yourself, and use it as an excuse to put off the others until it's done. Usually I feel better when something -- anything -- is completed.

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