Stories are written by writers. That much is a given, but what makes a writer? I’ve spent sixty years seeking the reasons that I create stories and the next guy doesn’t, with little to no result. But this morning, with the help of a profound comment on my last post followed five minutes later by reading a post on writing.com, the lightning has struck, and I believe I understand.
Writers pride themselves on their tools. We have knowledge of the mechanics, command of the language, and a convoluted imagination that’s constantly taking us down dark and mysterious paths. We apply these tools without letup, constantly seeking that unique combination of words and thoughts that will make us the author of the Next Big Blockbuster. But the fact is that most of us have these tools to some degree. We’re raised within a spoken language, and most of us attend some form of school to learn its formal rules and how to present it on the page. We all have imaginations of greater or lesser strangeness, and we constantly imagine things that aren’t part of our daily experience. So, why don’t all of us write?
I now believe that the ingredient that makes this person a writer and that one not is love; a love for the act of writing. I have had that love for many years, many decades. To see the story coming together on the page, to feel the joy of the subtle nuance that says so much and suggests so much more, to feel that thrill of anticipation of how your work will be received when you place it in front of a reader; that is love of the first order, and it’s what you have to feel from your skin right down to your bones in order follow this wild, unpredictable trade, be it job or hobby.
And I don’t feel it anymore. I’ve been retired for over two years now. I wake in the morning at six, or eight, or ten, it doesn’t matter, and the day is a clean slate stretching on to bedtime, waiting for me to use as I will. For a long time, the first activity of the day was to write. I was usually up early, and before the day’s excitement began, there were a couple of quiet hours when I could think and plot and carry on with nothing to distract me from my goal of quality wordsmithing. The mornings are still like that, but I’m not. For the past weeks, months maybe, I have gotten up, sat down at the keyboard, raised that white screen graced by the half-finished tale, and instead of thinking about where to take the story, I find myself wondering whether there are any household chores that I can do, perhaps some pressing research on my IRA distributions, or maybe a video game that is in desperate need of being completed. I dread writing in a way that I never dreaded going to my job, and that isn’t what retirement is supposed to look like.
I’m just not in love anymore. I’m not out of ideas, oh, far from it! The inside of my head looks like the warehouse scene at the end of Indiana Jones, with boxed and crated ideas on ceiling-high racks that extend into a haze in the distance. Oh, I still dabble at it here and there; that’s a perfect description of my Darklighters story, but if I was in love, I would open one of those boxes and ride it to the moon and back. But all they really are are annoyances, constant reminders of what I “should” be doing instead of what I want to do. It shouldn’t be like that.
The fact remains, though, that that’s how it is. I feel guilty about the things I’ve committed myself to do, and I am sad about the friends that I’m certain to drift away from as writing fades more and more certainly into the past. But I’m just not able to get up every morning, chain myself to this desk, and force myself to do something that has become more mind-numbing than any job-for-pay that I’ve ever had. I can’t do it.
So I’m going to step away from it. Perhaps after a break it will return. Perhaps it won’t, but I cannot afford to care. I cannot afford to spend the years or months I have left pursuing a dream that is of no interest to me. To be any kind of a writer, you must be prepared to leave your heart and soul on the page, and I can’t even drag them to the page anymore; it’s time to go, and commitments be damned. I need to say a few things to some people to wrap up the loose ends:
- To Bryce, hold the presses on that book cover. Should the writing bug return, I’ll get in contact, but don’t put any more work than you already have into a project that is at full stop with no prospects.
- To the magnificent handful who have so graciously agreed to proofread and edit The Darklighters, allow me to return some huge chunks of your time for things that you enjoy. If anything changes I’ll let you know, but don’t wait up for me . . .
- To William, I will finish your map, and with this agonizing distraction gone, things are likely to happen pretty quickly. Watch your e-mail for updates.
To everyone else, I’m going to leave this site up, because it contains (or soon will contain) all the things I’ve written in the past that I’d like people to be able to read for as long as they might like. All those tabs across the top contain stories and books that have been well-received by readers and critics. Enjoy them. It will give meaning to all those years I spent writing them. More will be added to them for a number of months, as I transcribe my work from years gone by, and I may even post more material in this blog, though I don’t know what it would be about here on this writing blog. Probably promoting the work of those friends I mentioned.
But all that is for days to come. Right now, I’m off to find my blues harps that I stuffed in a drawer years ago to make time for all this writing. Who knows, maybe I’ll have time to get my chops back. I’ve enjoyed your company on this long and convoluted ride, and I can’t say it hasn’t been interesting. Thanks for everything; I had a ball!