2008-09-05

Writers as Over-Caffeinated Termites

According to Walter Kirn:

At the beginning of a novel, a writer needs confidence, but after that, what's required is persistence. The traits sound similar. They aren't. Confidence is what politicians, seducers, and currency speculators have, but persistence is a quality found in termites. it's the blind drive to keep on working that persists after confidence breaks down.

This breakdown usually happens in chapter five or so, but sometimes it comes as early as chapter two. The book's characters have been introduced by then and given a world to live in, creating atmosphere. The challenges they face have been described and made to seem monumental, creating tension. Finaly, the novelist's friends and family have been pushed away, creating loneliness. Now what? The mind is powerless to answer, leaving the nerves and glands to do the job, assisted at times by caffeine and other substances.

But such chemical helpers only help so much. The mysterious energy required to turn silence into words perpetually uphill originates deep within the soul--so deep that its sources resist analysis. Novelists who pretend to understand what keeps them scribbling are really just guessing. A profound, unmet childish need to be acknowledged? Maybe. It hardly matters, though. The termite that asks itself why it keeps chewing risks becoming sluggish and inefficient, as does the writer who grows self-conscious in the middle of chapter five. Stopping to think is fine for characters, but not for their creators.

They have to work.
Yeah. Word. Finished Chapter Nine today, just by pushing on, 500 words a day, no matter what, 5 days a week and three nights ... (Husband rocks on, btw, by giving me that third night ... slightly increasing the very long odds that I can write eight more chapters in the 9 or so weeks before Two-ie arrives.)