I did something foolish the other day- Neil Gaiman’s ebook Trigger Warning was on sale for a fraction of its ordinary price, and I purchased it- but using my Amazon.com account. This is a problem because my Kindle is registered to the Amazon.ca site. It created all sorts of problems, not the least of which is the loss of the ebook (I had to return it, after all sorts of mucking about with “Kindle Specialists”). I managed to fix the problems on my own, and to test my newly-fixed Kindle, I decided to download the free sample of Neil Gamian’s Trigger Warning .
The sample contained the Introduction to the book- perhaps the entirety of it, perhaps simply a fraction. In this Introduction, Neil talked about the origins of each story in the book, and one of these stories he had written for Ray Bradbury. He talked about Ray and Ray’s advice to writers: “Write every day!”
I’ve heard this advice from many sources. Get your butt in the chair and write. Write each day. Read voraciously. Immerse yourself in your craft. I did this in high school- I read everything, I wrote every day- in summers sometimes I wrote six hours a day, and by summer’s end I not only had written novels, I had written them easily, almost effortlessly. I don’t have those novels any more- I threw them away, thinking they were terrible, in a fit of self-critcism- but the key thing, the main thing, is that I wrote. A lot. Every day.
When I was in college, studying microbiology, I stopped being able to read and write fiction every day, and I only had time for fiction on weekends at first- then maybe once or twice a month, then maybe less often than that. Writing became something I did for technical reports- a different kind of writing, using different parts of my brain (or so it seems to me). I went to graduate school and it was the same thing, though toward the end of it I managed to write fiction again- arguably not very amazing fiction, but it was something.
I graduated and worked, and I spent many years where I would hardly write any fiction at all- maybe a few poems here or there, or a short humorous sketch to make a friend laugh. I would occasionally dust off manuscripts and try to write, but I never had enough energy for them when I had time- and I rarely had extra time.
In the past couple of years I’ve tried making fiction writing a more routine thing, putting aside one, maybe two days a week where I knew I had blocks of time free to work on fiction. This has worked to an extent, but I’m out of touch with the side of my brain that is really good at writing fiction- all day every workday I spend time writing technical reports or computer programs, or conducting numerical analyses with complicated data. It’s a different kind of thinking, and when I get home I find I no longer can find the energy and drive I had as a high school student for fiction reading and fiction writing.
I have managed to put together a manuscript for my second novel, and I still plan to try to fix the structural problems and edit and polish as much as I can (which, alas, may take another few years, at my pace). I keep telling myself that I’m not in a race, but I can’t help missing the side of me that felt compelled to write fiction and that found writing fiction to be both freeing and effortless. The time I spend switching mental gears from how I think in my daily life to how I must think as a fiction writer exhausts me, and tonight I am having a bit of a crisis of faith. What if the part of me that was able to write well has died, or atrophied to the point where it can’t be resucitated? What if I will never be a writer- that is, a good writer, a productive writer whose work is read and enjoyed by many?
I will still work on my novel- or rather, novels, since I’ve got ideas for many floating about in my head. It’s a harmless pastime and it actually does give me enjoyment when I manage to put words to paper and they aren’t entirely terrible, or I come up with an idea that I think is new and interesting. I just wonder how much I’ve cost myself- how much time, how many works of fiction that could have been written and will now never exist- because I wasn’t able to follow Ray Bradbury’s advice to write every day.