Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Only Yourself to Blame

Writing is a strange business. I’ve been doing it a long time and really date my life as a writer from the fall of 1988, when I committed myself to getting published. I’ve chocked up some successes, and plenty of failures. I’ve gotten plenty of rejection slips but have had over three hundred pieces published, if you count, books, stories, poems, and nonfiction articles. That’s not counting anything I’ve self published.

There have been years when I’ve done very well—2007, 2009, and plenty of years where I didn’t—2013 through 2015. There was a year, or at least most of a year, when I quit—1997. One thing I’ve realized about writing is that there’s no resting on one’s laurels. You slow down, you lose momentum. You lose momentum, your carefully nurtured career begins to fall apart. In board gaming parlance, you go back a few spaces, even if not quite all the way back to the beginning.

Unfortunately, losses of momentum seem inevitable if you have anything approximating a normal life with spouses and children. People get sick, have crises. Sometimes, one crisis runs into another and another in an almost seamless fashion, leaving little time for the recovering of energies between. And age brings the magic dust of tiredness along with it. Sometimes it gets easier and easier to let the writing slide while you try to keep your head above water against the vagaries of fortune. At least it has been that way for me.

Maybe if I’d had the courage to choose writing as my only career, things might have been different. But I always liked to know where my next meal was coming from. So, I chose an academic career with writing on the side. And when you do have a job that pays the bills, and you come home tired, and the stress of life is beating on you, it becomes a lot easier to say, “screw it, no writing tonight.” You’re still pretty sure you’re not going to starve.  Though maybe you starve in another sense.

Writing, for me, used to be play. I worked hard at my play but it was a helluva lot of fun. There was also an element of gambling that went into every story. Maybe this one would take off. Maybe this one would be the one that broke me through to a bigger audience. Maybe this one would get the nod from one of the biggest magazines, or maybe—even—attract the attention of a film group. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

They say that age brings wisdom. Maybe it just brings cynicism. At this stage of my life, the gambling odds get longer and longer against me. And I never quite reckoned with the truth that one often has to run faster and faster just to stay in one place. The death of Robert Reginald, my editor at Borgo Press, a man who loved my Talera series and supported my writing at every turn, showed me that. He’d issued me contracts for a couple of more books that I could have had out while he was alive. But I just kept thinking, “there’s time.” There wasn’t.  And that has led me to a kind of crisis of faith.

I’ve got to find a reason to keep on keeping on. And I understand pretty clearly that the reason can’t be one that comes from outside of me. In the end, there’s only yourself to blame. For the good or the bad.






28 comments:

David J. West said...

Sorry to hear about your friend and editor Robert. My condolences.

But please add my name to the list of folks who want more of Talera and your other work.

I hear you about time, I keep thinking about what I want to accomplish and leave behind (and I should have quite a bit of time left) but it still passes through my mind. In the end I suppose we just have to be happy with ourselves as much as we can be.

All the best and keep writing.

Keith West said...

Charles, I'd like to add my condolences to David's. I've not read the Talera books yet, but I have the first one in the TBR pile for later in the spring.

Being in academia myself, I know excatly what you're saying about coming home too tired to write. Most people outside of academia don't realize how draining all the politics and paperwork can be, and if you try to be a good teacher, well, that's a drain on your energy as well. I struggle with that every day. And age is starting to creep up on me, too.

I also understand your comment on the reason to keep writing has to come from within rather than outside yourself. That's a very true sentence. But for what it's worth, I enjoy your work, I intend to read more of it, and I hope you keep writing.

Angie said...

Fiction writing is definitely one of those jobs where ya gotta wanna. There are things one can do to build up waning enthusiasm, but if you have to jack yourself up to write all the time, eventually one starts wondering why.

For what it's worth, I hope you find your wanna again soon. You're very good -- I've enjoyed many of your short stories, and your beer anecdotes -- and the fiction world would be poorer without you.

Regardless of momentum, though (although you're right about needing a fairly steady stream of new work to keep things chugging along at the same level, with hopefully some acceleration) one thing I like about fiction writing is that there's no time limit. It's not like we have to say everything we ever wanted to say before we're forced into retirement at 65, or whenever. If you need to take a month or six months or even a year or two off, and then come back refreshed, you can do that. You can do whatever you want to do, and if you change your mind in the future, you can change your path and go in a new direction.

Hang in there, hon. {{}}

Angie

sage said...

It is tough to lose someone who encourages us in our craft, who serves as a mentor and friend. I'm sorry for your loss, but agree that it all comes down to what's inside of us. Blaming others and even circumstances don't change anything. Hang in there and keep writing.

Charles Gramlich said...

David J., thanks, man. I appreciate the kind words. Time is of the essence, I suppose

Keith, I appreciate that. I've certainly appreciated the kind words you've had to say about my work. Those kinds of things do add immensely to the motivation to keep on keeping on. As for teaching, I have three classes on MWF and by the end of those I'm certainly exhausted, if I've done a good job in them.

Angie, thankee. I do love that aspect of fiction and have many stories that develop slowly in that way. I think to get further along in a career, though, it is important to get into those kinds of venues that require, sometimes, quick turn arounds. That helps build your name, but it can be exhausting.


Sage, sure is tempting to blame circumstances but it doesn't help in the long run.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm sorry you lost your editor.
That's why I could never do this full time. I don't write fast enough to maintain the kind of momentum required in this day and age. And like you, I want to know where my next meal is coming from.

Ty said...

Sorry about the loss, for yourself and the rest of his family and friends.

Charles, you know some of my own loss over the last couple of years, and I'll say this: Before my dad and my wife's death, I never could have imagined not having the urge to write. In fact, I didn't understand people who didn't have at least some kind of artistic urge. Now ... not so much. It's still there to a lesser extent, but whereas before writing was all-important to me (and if I'm honest, even to the detriment of various relationships at times), I can now imagine myself not writing. While I'm still interested, it's not the end-all, be-all that it once was for me. There's no longer a sense of urgency. Grief? Balance? Maturity? I don't know. Not sure what I'd do for a living, because I don't think I could go back to journalism even if I wanted to. Maybe the drive will come back, but to be honest, if it doesn't, I think I'm okay with that. For that matter, I've spent most of the last year doing very little writing while working on a sort-of genealogy project.

eric1313 said...

I never wanted to slow down or quit, but things happened, and when I tried writing again, I felt like a caricature of my self starting out at my blog. Now I feel good and confident in continuing to develop my poetry voice.

Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, eating is good.

Ty, I think that lack of a sense of urgency is certainly a part of what I'm feeling as well. And a lot of burnout. could be just a kind of depression talking to me.

eric1313, I tend t oget rusty when I haven't written in a while. It does come back. usually.

X. Dell said...

First, my condolences. I've been in that position, thinking that I had time to do this that or the other thing with a certain person, and then finding out that I didn't.

I'm hardly the expert on writing, or motivation for that matter. But if I were a betting man, I'd wager a ten-spot that the urge to write will never leave you entirely. I agree with you that whatever motivates you to write is within you--it's simply a component of who you are.

And you know what Herzberger says about motivated people: they move themselves wherever and whenever they feel like it.

David Cranmer said...

I was reading a collection of Charles Gramlich just before and after my daughter was born. Helped me through a long few days. Eternally appreciative. Don't ever stop writing, Charles.

Charles Gramlich said...

X. Dell, I used to find self motivation easier than I do these days. Maybe that will return.

David Cranmer, thanks, man. I appreciate that.

Miladysa said...

Sorry to read of your loss, Charles.

The inspiration to write will come again and I am sure what you produce when it does will be as enjoyable as it as always been.

Take care.
M x

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, that was really well said. I'm sorry to hear about your editor. In my opinion, you have done well to write and publish as much as you have and while I haven't read all of your work, it has been a pleasure to know you and see your books online and in print. You have lots of writing ahead of you. As David says, don't stop writing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Miladysa, hey, it is good to hear from you. I hope you are well.

Prashant, I appreciate that, my friend. I believe you are right about me having more writing ahead.

Chris said...

One step, one punch, one round.

I took a neighbor to the airport today. She was on her way to New Orleans. She asked if I had been there, and I said I have. I told her I have a good friend there I'd really like to see again. For what it's worth, that friend is you, Charles.

jodi said...

Charles-Firstly, sorry for the loss of your supporter and friend. Secondly, in my world you have been wildly successful. Write because you have to-and because you love it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Despite having the best year I've had, I am filled with a tiredness that may spell the end of trying to write another novel. So I know what you mean...exactly.

eric1313 said...

And of course, sorry to read of the loss of your friend and ally in publishing.

G. B. Miller said...

My condolences for your loss of what sounds like a very good egg and good supporter in your corner.

I kind of know what you're going through with the writing. I've been chipping away at what seems to be forever on a good slushie novel, and most of the time I'm in the same boat when it comes to best laid writing plans. I'm fortunate enough to have at least one manuscript ready for me to move on to that important step of contacting a freelance editor, but the only thing that is stopping me (not counting money) from doing it, is the amount of time & energy I will have to invest, and frankly, I don't see it right now.

Life. Sometimes it ain't noisy shiny crap.

Father Nature's Corner

oscar case said...

My condolences, Charles. Speaking of momentum, mine waxes and wanes, never steady, but my thoughts are positive... so far.

Charles Gramlich said...

Chris, thanks, man. It would be great to hang out again. Maybe talk some American Falcon.

Jodi, thank you. Some days it is enough.

patti, oh to have the energy of youth! :)

eric1313, it was certainly a blow.

G.B., when I was young I spent energy freely. Nowadays I have to hoard it carefully.

Oscar, I'm ready for my momentum to wax a little. :)

the walking man said...

Got nothing for you Charles, I started to write with no ambition of publication back in the 60's, saw most of my work fly away in the wind and then saw my name in print enough times to not care anymore. I write still, but I think it may be more out of habit than anything else.

Vesper said...

I'm very sorry about Robert Reginald. And I can understand exactly what you mean in this post. I often feel as if time is slipping through my fingers, that I'm in a race against something, not sure what exactly, old age, maybe... when nothing will be and feel the same as it does now.
But you have great talent, Charles, so don't ever think of quitting.
One thing that I noticed with me is that once I started thinking about publishing and not just about having fun writing, a lot of the fun was replaced with worrying and thinking about how to write stuff that will please others. I don't like this.
The following is an article that I find somehow uplifting though I hope I won't have to wait that long to get something published. :-)
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-big-lie-of-age-and-writing?utm_source=wir&utm_campaign=wds-bak-wir-151231&utm_content=810081_WDE151231&utm_medium=email

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Writing becomes a balm during times of great loss. The fictional world is an incredible escape. Write on, my friend.

R.T. said...

I read with considerable interest your soul-baring posting and the comments, and I confess that the muse has been whispering to me for years, but I have ignored it because of fear of failure (e.g., being that tree falling silently in the forest); perhaps rereading your posting and comments will help me overcome inertia.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, There is definitely an element of habit for me as well. Don't know what else I'd do.

Vesper, you're absolutely right. it is the thinking about the publishing that turns so much of the glitter to dross.

Bernard, yes it is, as long as you can keep your mind on the story and not on the publishing!

R. T., if the muse is whispering, I'd say take it out and let it dance!

Snowbrush said...

Charles, I lasted a year trying to get published, after which I thought that, here I am, working my ass off writing things that, for the most, aren’t dear to my heart, and for what, to make what amounted to minimum wage, to see my name in print? Now, here I am pushing 67, the greatest regret of my life being that I didn’t keep on keeping on. So, why not start today? I just can’t. I don’t know why, but not a day passes but what I feel regret for that which I cannot seem to make myself do. For what it’s worth, I do sympathize. I also wonder how you would feel if you stopped. Would you be glad for what you did, or would interpret the end of it as failure?