"Planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.
~ E. L. DOCTOROW
Not the least of which is what has happened to the writing I used to be so sharply focused on. My grandmother used to regale me, when I spoke of grandiose projects, with a vulgar version of "Poop or get off the pot!" and I can hear her voice now, telling me to do just that. I'll try, Nama. Let me know how I'm doing.
When I finished Beyond the Rails and put it up for all the world to see back in November of 2013, I was as excited as a kid at a circus. The fact that it was exceedingly well received by the handful of readers who discovered it did nothing to dampen that excitement, and I pitched into Beyond the Rails II without a pause. Before I could get too far, January 7th, 2014 to be exact, I was struck down by a flu that became pneumonia, and was then joined by a different strain of flu. To say that I almost died is no exaggeration. I was in a coma for three weeks, and my family was told to prepare for the end, because people my age didn't recover from things this bad.
But recover I did. I returned home at the end of February, and had two more months at home to recover my strength before going back to work. During those two months, I would get out the notebook containing the Beyond the Rails II material, stare at it for a bit, then put it away and do something else. I finally did some work on it the week before I returned to my job on May 1st. I struggled with it in fits and starts on my days off, and finally had it ready for publication in February of 2015. In the eighteen months ensuing, including the last four months during which I have been retired, I have outlined and reoutlined the third book, toyed with two others, rebooted this blog, started another, been deeply involved with a group at The Steampunk Empire, set up an author's page on Facebook, returned to boardgaming, slaughtered countless zombies and terrorists on the Xbox, both solo and with my daughter, struggled to relearn the harmonica, and I have talked and talked and talked about the pending release of the magnificent and soon-to-be acclaimed Beyond the Rails III.
Which is odd, because in a year and a half, I should have had it published, and been well on the way to having its follow-on work ready. Instead, I have done and talked about everything I can think of to prevent myself from having to write.
George R.R. Martin is often given credit for saying "I despise writing. I love having written." Allow me to set the record straight. Before he was a mischievous gleam in his mother's eye, James Michener was saying "Many people who want to be writers don't really want to be writers. They want to have been writers. They wish they had a book in print." While I can't say who was first, his contemporary, Michael Kanin, is on record with "For forty-odd years in this noble profession I've harbored a guilt and my conscience is smitten. So here is my slightly embarrassed confession: I don't like to write, but I love to have written."
Seems I'm not the first to have found myself in this quandary, nor is the estimable Mr. Martin. But I wonder if that's it. I don't hate the act of writing, nor the outlining and research that comes with it, despite the dismissal of all that stuff by the aforementioned Mr. Doctorow. It is a part of writing, just as drawing up the blueprints is part of building an airplane. But what is my problem? Why am I always so ready to neglect my writing and do something, anything else? One thing, of course, is the availability of all the peripheral stuff that attracts me. Had my grandmother been a writer in the 1950s, her entertainment distractions would have consisted of The Lone Ranger and I Love Lucy. If she wanted to play a game, it was checkers or Monopoly. Social media? On-line conversations were held over the back fence as she and her neighbor hung their laundry on the clothesline. I have a myriad of fascinating distractions that she couldn't imagine pulling me in every direction virtually every minute.
But blaming something beyond my control is not what I want to be known for. That's easy to do, and marks you as cheap and shallow. At the end of the day, it is I who have decided how to spend my precious time. So, what then? One theory I keep coming back to is that "Write a Book" was an item on a bucket list that my subconscious has been keeping without my knowledge, and that having done that, it has moved on to other things, no longer interested in proving the proven.
I don't know. All I know is that it's time, as grandma use to say, to "Poop or get off the pot." So, until I sort out whether I'm a writer or not, this blog, as well as my involvement in social media, is going on hiatus. I will still play with my daughter, and I will still reply to anyone who directs comments or questions to me specifically. I will pimp the books I've already finished on the various Facebook pages and other sites where one does that, but no more long conversations about the philosophy of writing, no more (or very little) solitaire gaming, no more solo activities that don't involve putting words on the page. If in the next few months I finish Beyond the Rails III and plunge whole-heartedly into what comes beyond, then I will have found that I am indeed a writer. If I find that I can't focus on that to the exclusion of all these distractions, then it will be the case that I'm not a writer, and that will be a choice that I have made. It isn't a fatal shortcoming to not be an author. Most people aren't, and a good number of them have fulfilling lives despite that, but I need to find out before I go too much farther, and the next few months will be the test. I'd say wish me luck, but luck has nothing to do with it. It's a condition of being, and we'll all find out together what I'm going to be.
So don't look for much more activity here before Beyond the Rails III is (or isn't) available on Amazon. Don't look for rambling chats on Facebook, or long conversations at Scribblers' Den. Look for production, and if you don't find that, look for my farewell statement. It's time for me to find out who I am.
So until we meet again, play nice, look out for one another, and above all else, get out there and live life like you mean it!