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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, August 01, 2008

the artist as worrier

I still wake up in the middle of the night (at 3:50 this morning) and worry about my project (among other things). During the day I don't worry about it too much; I continue on with what I'm doing and let it take its course. But at night, lying passively in the dark, I worry.

What exactly do I worry about? I worry mainly that my idea is unworkable and that I'll lose inspiration with it and not finish it. Or that I will finish it but be unable to find anyone to publish it, forcing me to publish it myself. Thus the end of one Sisyphian task merges into the beginning of another.

I worry that I won't be able to solve my story problems, or to make my work cohere into something unified. That I won't be able to find what it is I'm truly trying to say, and thus won't be able to tell what belongs in my story and what doesn't.

I worry about how fast the years are going by now, and how little I seem to be able to get done each day, each year. They zip by like telephone poles on a train-ride. How many poles do I have left before the trip ends? How can I possibly be spending so much time on one project? What's wrong with me?

I sometimes feel at night the way I did as a boy in school, when I'd wake up and feel dread about some project that was coming due, and which I was procrastinating on finishing (or starting). In the day it didn't seem to bother me enough to get going on it, but at night I would have a knot of worry in my gut, knowing that the consequences of noncompletion would be unpleasant. I felt unfree.

Back then I didn't want to do their stupid assignments. I wanted to do my own projects, my own thing. But now I am doing my own project, my own thing--and still I lie awake at night, sweating it out.

Now, in the (underslept) light of day, I tell myself that this is the price of originality. If I were working on a "normal" project, that is, one that resembled other projects already out there, I would be able to plan its completion in a rational way. You're building a recognizable thing using a tested approach; you have a reasonable ETA for the whole thing. "This humorous vampire novel should take about eight months to write."

For this alien behemoth gestating in the uterus of my hard-drive, who knows.

I don't, and it worries me.

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