February 25th, 2009


"...there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Still very cold here in Providence. I've not left the house in seven days.

Yesterday began, and I had the story I need to write in mind. But I didn't have the setting quite figured out, or the characters exactly so, and had not decided on certain of the circumstances of the story. So...it was that sort of day. The sort I spend looking for the entry. I researched the Gulf of Mexico, the Sigsbee Deep, brine pools, extremophiles (hyperthermophiles and halophiles, specifically), plate tectonics and the evolution of the Mid-Atlantic, a clipper named Sea Witch (1846-1856), and somehow that led to reading parts of Hamlet, and Poe's "The Doomed City," and its later incarnation, "The City in the Sea." Which led back around to...well...lots of other stuff. Point being, I spent the day reading things that might be related to the story, if only tangentially. And I wondered what writers would do on days like that, before we could suckle at the aetheric teat of the internet. Rather arbitrarily, let's say pre-1994. Did they read from books? Did they abandon their typewriters, and, in frustration, spend the day walking, or sitting in bars? Did they talk to other men and women, and through that interaction find the answers they needed to go back to the blank page?

It was half expected, yesterday's floundering, but that made it no less welcome. Here, in this lingering winter, and with all these looming deadlines, I need productive days. Days that end in four-digit word counts. Yesterday, in a comment to the journal, someone referred to Joyce Carol Oates' published diaries, and her confessions to having feelings of utter worthlessness on the days she did not write. Which hits the nail on the head. And my thanks to Joah, who sent me something written by Isaac Asimov, on the difficulties of being a writer (whether pro or not), an editorial from December 21, 1981. I'll quote a couple of passages:

That is the possibility all of us live with. We sit there alone, pounding out the words, with our heart pounding in time. Each sentence brings with it a sickening sensation of not being right. Each page keeps us wondering if we are moving in the wrong direction. Even if, for some reason, we feel we are getting it right and that the whole thing is singing with operatic clarity, we are going to come back to it the next day and re-read it and hear only a duck's quacking. It's torture for every one of us.


Even after the item is sold and paid for and published, the triumph is rarely unalloyed. The number of miseries that might still take place are countless. A book can be produced in a slipshod manner or it can have a repulsive book jacket, or blurbs that give away the plot or clearly indicate that the blurb-writer didn't follow the plot.

A book can be non-promoted, treated with indifference by the publisher and therefore found in no bookstores, and sell no more than a few hundred copies. Even if it begins to sell well, that can be aborted when it is reviewed unsympathetically or even viciously by someone with no particular talent or qualifications in criticism.

If you sell a story to a magazine you may feel it is incompetently illustrated, or dislike the blurb, or worry about misprints. You are even liable to face the unsympathetic comments of individual readers who will wax merry, sardonic, or contemptuous at your expense——and what are their qualifications for doing so?

You will bleed as a result. I never met a writer who didn't bleed at the slightest unfavorable comment, and no number of favorable or even ecstatic remarks will serve as a styptic pencil.

Of course, Asimov ends by saying that, regardless of these miseries (and many others), he would choose no other life but the life of a writer. And I think that's one of the consolations that I'm missing. This was not my first choice, but it's what I do best. And that's why I do it.

Anyway, I'm running late. There are words that will not find themselves.