Motor 05/09/22

I had a brief writing thought today, and I will try to keep this brief. Writing about writing produces lightbulb moments, but too much of it is bad luck.

I think about my slow writing pace when I’m taking a shower. Why did it take me so long to get the motor running, and why, now that the motor is running, is the writing coming out so quickly?

What’s up with the pace of “one book a year”?

Why am I so fascinated by writers who’ve been able to become prolific genre creators with hundreds of books to their name?

The key is in that “motor” analogy.

For the purpose of this analogy, assume there are two ways of writing a book.

In the first, you dump yourself into the work. This is the “open up your veins and bleed” metaphor popularized by aging dad writers who love whiskey. In this model, a book is an opportunity to put your thoughts, life experience, etc. into the work.

Nothing wrong with it, per se, but you run the risk of running out of self to insert into the work.

This is what happened to me post-Black Gum. That book was so successful that it became the way I wanted to write everything. The problem: I dumped everything from that point in my life into 120 pages. The tank of personal experience had run dry.

As such, I became “blocked.” I read lots of books of philosophy and history, and became intent on dumping this newfound knowledge into my new books. Didn’t work.

Because that’s not what the book wanted to be.

In the second model of what a book should be, we can think of it as a motor, a generator, a living thing separate but connected to us. In this model, you’re not approaching a manuscript as your personal diary, but rather as a world you’ve built that runs on its own. Jay had a big post about this recently. The concept of “world-running” is fascinating.

Neither model is wrong, and people succeed at both. But think of the difference between a Sarah Manguso, whose books are these tiny, powerful collections of introspective brilliance, and someone like Brandon Sanderson, who can pump out four enormous fantasy manuscripts like he’s breathing.

One of them is using the first model of book-writing, the latter the second.

Which leads to a bit of introspection…I’m not that deep. I don’t sit alone and think up brilliant shit. Everything I come up with comes from the collaborative performance of conversation (in this case, a call with Kelby).

I’ll leave it there, because I think I’ve made my point. I am someone who works best when I approach a book dispassionately. I create a world, think up some cool shit I’d like to see happen, then get to work. Cool stuff comes up the same way it might come up over a few beers with a friend, through this loose interaction with a self-running world with some predetermined rules. But if I approach books with the former model, where I’m making sure every page is full of my soul and innermost whatever, I’ll average one tiny book every few years, because that’s about how much of my self I’m able to generate.

That’s it. Have a good one.