If It Feels Like Complacency…

by rsbakker

Daily Aphorism: Only fools burn anymore, which is why so many literary bellies are filled with fill–dirt shovelled from better graves.

I’ve been spinning my wheels this past week. The key to my productivity, since I quit my two pack a day smoking habit, anyway, has been routine. There was a time, back when I still tried to will my way into writing, where I really worried that I wasn’t cut out for a career as a writer. I literally started working in the fields when I was eleven years old – I’ve spent the bulk of my life driven by the expectations of people who where actually looking over my shoulder as I worked. One of the first things I discovered when I began writing full time was that the solitude and independence that I had spent so long yearning for possessed an entirely different motivational structure, one that will send you skidding down innumerable paths of least resistence if you don’t find some way to adapt. Before you know it, you’re finishing your fifth full campaign of Rome: Total War, or winning you fifteenth EA Games Stanley Cup, cursing yourself for being such an unproductive loser.

Since I had no faith in my willpower whatsoever, I decided to relieve my will of command, and replace it with habit. So I started leaving the house every morning and going to coffeeshops – someplace where work was all there was to do. And that has been the cornerstone of every book I’ve written since The Warrior-Prophet (which I finished as a smoker and recovering graduate workaholic).

This is one of the reasons I’m so reluctant to do cons, even though I have a total blast whenever I do go. Any interruption in my routine, it seems, sends me crashing from the rails altogether. If I take even a single day off, I’m three days recovering. If I miss a weekend, then I’m at least a week recovering. Now, with Denmark looming, Disciple languishing, I find myself in a bona fide creative slump.

And I find myself wondering whether this is way literary writers must feel: as if they’re stuck trying to ignite dirt.

I say this because I’ve come to regret my earlier post on Tom McCarthy. After watching and reading a number of interviews with Justin Cronin and Jonathan Franzen over the past weeks, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that McCarthy actually has a programme, that he is actually trying to accomplish something with his fiction. The easiest thing in the world, it seems to me, is to take shots at someone who is trying – earnestly trying – to forge a stormy relationship with readers, even if, as I happen to think, he is really only going through the motions of a certain bureaucratic genre.

He has the fire… You gotta give him that.

In an age where only fools burn, no less.