The Writer Reinvents Himself
Were I not to clamp both hands firmly over the lips, the first words out of my mouth might be “Oh, are we doing this again?”
By now, at 60, I figure that over the course of a lifetime I’ve regenerated about as many times as Dr. Who (and I want that screwdriver, dammit!). Some of those inventions are public, and employment oriented: singer in a garage band or three (there was a future in that only so long as people allowed us in their garages); legal secretary; painter; graphic artist; technical writer; illustrator; window treatment expert (which really involved inhaling far more 3M products than is likely healthy for one); book store manager…somehow I dodged “cab driver,” which used to turn up on writer resumes with the regularity of a splotch of tomato soup.
Writers reinvent in order to survive. Your fantasy-writing career is tanking? Take up paranormal romance. Young Adult Fantasy is glutted? (It is at the moment, by the way.) Try young adult science fiction…maybe for boys, they need more fiction aimed at them. And maybe under an assumed name which doesn’t have the baggage of bad sales figures that the publishing houses–now no longer remotely interested in the concept of “growing” anyone’s career unless you are an overnight success straight out of the chute–employ the way French peasants employed the guillotine on aristocrats.
Even assuming that we have pretty numbers, we spend our lives looking for what excites us–that crazy bit of history nobody else seems to have noticed. That line from a song that set your brain on fire. That astonishing biography nobody else has written. That riff on zombies that lets you talk about marital breakdown. In my experience, since I don’t do series, every project, every book, every story is a matter of reinvention. For a story of mine that was reprinted awhile back in Apex Magazine (http://apex-magazine.com/), I had to become a slave aboard a slaveship two centuries ago. For my most recent novels, the Shadowbridge duology, a female shadowpuppeteer in a world that nobody other than me had ever seen. For another short story out this year, “The Dingus,” a former boxer/trainer who now drives a cab (see, I knew I should have had ‘cab driver’ on my resumé).
All this imagining, it’s what we do. In that we’re like actors. The late Andre Dubus said that to write his stories well, he had to dive deeper and deeper into his characters; in essence, become them, know their every move, every strategy, every failing. Only then was he satisfied with his stories.
So, reinvention? It comes with the addiction.
The trick, I think, is to embrace the addiction and not run away from it. Author Chuck Wendig said that not long ago in a blog post: “Good advice for 2012: This is the year when you do not run from the thing you want to write, and do not try to pretend that it should be easier, different, harder…anything but what it is. The story you have to get out.”
*This post is a revision of an earlier piece.