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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Saturday, April 30, 2005

the burden of success

Up at 7:15, made coffee, highlighted and keyed notes from Twelve Caesars and When Prophecy Fails. I find myself reluctant to do the Roman material, even though I need it for the coming sections of the book. I think it's resistance: I have to do these notes now, and so I don't want to. I feel as though it should already be done--like homework I've avoided. And yet I made a conscious decision months ago to put off my Roman research until I got further along: a "just-in-time delivery" approach. Hence, I spend time in the morning highlighting Suetonius, then keying the highlights--slow going. I make myself do 2 pages a day, whether I feel like it or not. It's only 2 pages.

It's the weekend, so no writing. I need some feeling of break from the daily grind of writing--some days when I'm not responsible for making more pages happen. Then I treat anything I do--including research--on the project as a bonus.

These days I'm feeling underpowered. I wake in the predawn hours with fresh attacks of worry that this whole project is misbegotten. I realize that if I keep at it, it will stretch out for years ahead of me. Will I continue to feel like it? Will it become an obligatory job that I must force myself to do each day? What's it like for those super-successful writers who have huge audiences hungry for their next work? Does J. K. Rowling have to drag her sorry carcass to the word processor to make herself grind out the next Harry Potter? Is her dearest wish that she could be doing something else?

The writer wishes for job security in his chosen field--then becomes burdened with it. I remember reading an interview with the actor Rupert Everett in which he said that once the world finds that it wants something from you, it keeps demanding more and more of it. It will keep demanding that one thing until it kills you.

When I'm not working on it, my project scares me. I'm offended by my own hubris in tackling it. My only excuse is that it inspired me, beckoned me, excited me, seduced me. It wanted me.


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