2005-08-15

Takes One to Know One

The best description I have ever, ever seen of writer-paralysis (and the very reason I have vowed to NEVER LOOK BACK, NEVER START OVER until a draft is done from start to end) is found in the story "Sunlight," by Matthew Kneale, which is collected in a volume called Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance (a collection I can best describe as Roald Dahl grows up, ditches his mysogyny and dependance on magic to drive plot, and travels the Global Village behaving badly -- wonderful stories that made me so uncomfortable I had to stop reading them before bed because thinking about them afterward made it impossible for me to sleep). Anyway, see here:

All his dignity would be restored once he finished his novel.

Unfortunately, he never did. Years went by, and the book continued to slip and slide from his grasp. The maddening thing was he could never quite see what was wrong. Everything felt fine when he was deeply absorbed, but as soon as he stood back, distracted by a few day's break, or even an absorbing program on television, it all seemed to fall to nothing: characters he had thought intriguing and complex became somehow indistinguishable from one another (changing their names, which he did repeatedly, never seemed to help). Likewise, plot lines that had felt ingenious suddenly appeared lacking in any sense of surprise, as if the whole story might be the background to something else more eventful. A number of times he tried to abandon the whole project, only to be pulled back, like a cart dragged into the same muddy ruts it has got stuck in ten dozen times before. How could he give it up whne he had already invested so much time? [...] So he worked on, accumulating first chapters--he never quite got started on a second--of wide variety, one opening with Lucinda dancing passionately in a 1932 Berlin nightclub, another beginning with poor Hermann breathing his penniless last breath in the chill wind of 1979 New York, a third starting with Leonora (previously Lucinda) weeping tight-lipped in her Stepney home at the news the Gerhardy (Hermann) has been reported missing in action from the Afrika Korps. The novel did not grow so much as spread, as pages of handwritten notes and printed openings piled up in his study, on shelves, in drawers, on the floor at his feet.
Story of my first novel, with the slight exception that I managed several awful complete drafts in addition to the dozens and dozens and dozens of first chapters that are archived in stacks of plastic file boxes in our garage.

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