On guilt

This book brought to 
you by guilt.

My long-time writing mentor Tim Powers is the first to admit that he’s no role model. And yet, whenever I’m looking for inspiration I find him there with his quirky and often contradictory take on the writing life.

One refreshing thing is that he doesn’t claim to write every day, like most other authors. It’s the accepted rule that to be a writer one must write. That one must write every day, optimally at the same time every day, maybe at the same desk. That one should struggle through the hard days, sitting there without writing a word if that’s what it takes. People like Stephen King claim to write 365 days a year, and the rest of us feel a little less worthy of calling ourselves writers when we let a day or even (gasp!) a week slip by between writing sessions. Now, I’m not saying that King and the others are lying. But it is an awfully high bar to try to vault over. I mean, how many other professions insist that you take no holidays?

What I am saying is that guilt is an inherent part of being a writer. Powers says this too: when you’re a writer you’ll do anything to avoid actually sitting down to write; but you’re also sort of honor-bound to feel bad about it when you succeed in avoiding the work.

1074 pages? There’s
not enough guilt in
the world.

This is where I find myself now. Having drafted the novel, I know, deep down in that place of Truth, that I’m not ready to start revising it yet. It needs to sit, to steep, for the memory of the words I’ve written to drain away from my fingertips and my neurons. This too is part of the accepted rules. But the guilt is strong. Get back to work, it says.

I’ve written a short story, and I should write some more of them. If I were a “real” author I could do that, switching between projects like a channel-surfer with a cramping finger. But it’s hard: the brain-space of the novel bleeds into any new work, suggesting ideas for revision and getting in the way of alternate narratives.

What is the answer? I wish I knew. I’d write a story about it.

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