Between Books

October 9th, 2007

I’m between books at the moment, and I wouldn’t wish it on Kim Jong-Il.

Yesterday I finished the (presumably) final editing pass on [tag]The Fourth Watcher[/tag]. The copy edit and galley review are still hovering spectres in the future, but those are mainly mechanical exercises, rather than creative. The world I was inventing in The Fourth Watcher has moved into the past tense now, and I haven’t begun the next one.

This is the demon’s thanksgiving. This is the time when every single doubt I’ve ever had about my talent and even my basic competence comes out to play. They make regular appearances while I’m writing, but usually one at a time. Now I’m enduring the ghouls’ choir. They’ve obviously been preparing, because they’ve learned to sing four-part harmony to support one single sentence. That sentence is:

You’ll never be able to write another one.

It’s not as though I don’t have ideas. I have plenty of ideas. It’s not as though this anxiety is anything new; this will be the thirteenth novel I’ve written. And I’m actually aware — somewhere deep inside — that I am, at the very least, competent.

But that’s deep inside. What’s on the surface, up here where I live, is the absolute conviction that I’m not competent. That everything I’ve ever written that was any good was dumb luck; that the people who publish (and have published) my work have bad taste; that everything I’ve done was accomplished with smoke and mirrors, and a talent so thin it’s practically transparent.

And that’s on a good day. On a bad one, I think about getting a job with the post office. My anxiety is so profound that I’m taking a class in Chinese, in part not to have to think about writing.

At this point, all I can do is hope that after I finally muscle my way into a new book — by sheer will power — the magic will happen again. The world I’m writing about will begin to move, to take on colors and smells. The characters will stop being people I’m making up and become people I have to put up with.

In other words, [tag]inspiration[/tag] will strike. And then it will strike again. But that probably won’t happen until I’m actively exploring the new world (whatever it proves to be) of that unwritten book. Picasso said it best, I think: “I believe inspiration exists. But it has to find you working.”

I should probably get to work.
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[tags[Writing, Being Published, inspiration[/tags]

4 Responses to “Between Books”

  1. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Tim

    For once your blog was no laughing matter — although you did find ways of making light of your self-doubt. As I read I kept thinking two things. One, how wonderful it is that you can be so honest and straightforward about what you go through when you’re between books, so to speak. And simultaneously I felt that someone as extraordinarily gifted and talented as you are, couldn’t possibly have this level of self-doubt. But of course you do, it is only human after all. And, as you say yourself, once you get to work and the creative process begins to flow your characters, the story will unfold and at last those pesky voices of self-doubt will dwell in the mind of some other artist on the verge of a new creation.

    I really appreciate your honesty, Tim. Thank you!

    Suzanna

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Suzanna —

    Thanks so much for the words of encouragement. There’s not much point in my writing these entries if I can’t indulge in honesty once in a while, even if it’s not particularly entertaining. So this was kind of a whine, and I’m sorry for that.

    But it’s amazing how persuasive this conviction is, even though I’ve been through it so many times. It always finds new ways to convince me that this time it’s different — this time I REALLY won’t be able to write another one. What it means, in the end, is that I’ll have to sit down and hammer away at the keyboard for weeks, with no faith that I’m doing anything that anyone will ever read, until the day when it all sort of starts to ripple, and acquires its own energy. Then I can ride it and let the characters take me where they want.

    I hope.

  3. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Imagine a surgeon finishing his 14th surgery, putting down the knife, backing away from the table and declaring that he’s not sure if he’ll ever be able to operate again. No one will ever want him to cut again. Everyone will know he’s a fraud.

    How about a mechanic? A chef? A tile setter?

    Writers are PROFESSIONALS, just like other professionals. Why do we allow ourselves to suffer so? If you weren’t any good, don’t you think someone would have discovered your subterfuge by your third or even your ninth book? ;^D

    Keep writing. We’ll keep reading. Promise!

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Well, Cynthia, you’re right, of course. And I can’t blame a lack of inspiration for my trepidation because I agree with Anthony Trollope, who said if bootmakers waited for inspiration, we’d all be barefoot.

    Bootmakers, though, make pretty much the same thing over and over again. My problems are: (a) I always want the new one to be as little as possible like the last one; (b) I always want to try to do something I’m not sure I know how to do; and (c)my personal assessment of my talent isn’t a particularly generous one. I think I have a modest talent, combined with a huge amount of energy for refining that talent. Out of that combination I’ve managed to generate all these books.

    And I know they’re there. I can see them. I can pick them up. People write to say nice things about them. They make a nice-looking, if somewhat short, shelf. They weigh a lot when I move.

    But there are still those f**king internal critics who tell me it’s all smoke and mirrors, and some of the time I’m completely defenseless against them. Even though I know better, even though I know that people enjoy reading what I write, even though I occasionally enjoy reading what I write, too. (I almost always enjoy writing it, as opposed to reading it, which can be pretty sobering.)

    You’re 100 percent right, though,and I thank you for the pep talk. It was, in fact pretty much exactly what I needed today.

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