Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Time In Between

Whether a writer is beginning a book, in the middle of a book, finishing a book, or editing a book, he or she is still a writer.

The problem is the time in between books.  

THE FEAR ARTIST is done, canned, and has been loosed on the world.  Junior Bender number three, THE FAME THIEF, is finished and has been edited.  The first ebook in a series about writing, MAKING STORY: TWENTY-ONE WRITERS ON HOW THEY PLOT, is all wrapped up and in the capable hands of Kimberly Hitchens for conversion.

I have titles fot the next Poke (FOR THE DEAD) and the next Junior (KING MAYBE) but the train hasn't left the station on either of them yet,  I'm noodling, feeling them out, seeing where they might go.

But not actually writing.  Which means, at the moment, that I'm not a writer.

When I'm not happy with the sales of my books or when no newspaper reviews appear, I sometimes whine to my wife about quitting.  Her response is, essentially, "And do what?"   And I have to admit that the question gives me pause.

Not writing brings out the worst in me.  I get querulous, quarrelsome, and easily confused.  I look old.  People helpfully take my arm when I step down off a curb (this actually happened.)  I worry about politics, of all the idiotic things. I ransack every passing discomfort for a symptom of something terminal.  I am a total, unmitigated pain in the ass.

And I'm home, to my wife's conspicuous lack of delight.  Underfoot.  Displeased with the way magazines are stacked.  In the kitchen when she wants access to all four burners.  Instead of being off at some coffee house, coddling a daydream, I'm in the middle of her view.  When my father retired, my mother said, "I married him for better and for worse, but not for lunch."  

I get reminded of that from time to time, these days.

This week, at least I get to play writer.  I'm flying to New York for meetings with my publishers (see? I have publishers -- I must be a writer!) and bookstore events (see? I'm doing bookstore events-- I must be . . .) But I won't be writing.  

Writing isn't always easy and it often isn't fun, but it's one of those things about which you can truthfully say, "The only thing worse than _____ing is not _____ing."  Someone, I think it was Thoreau, claimed that all of humanity's problems stem from our inability to sit alone in a room for any length of time.  Well, I can sit alone in a room for days and days.  If I'm writing.  If I'm not, you could plunk me down in a vast ballroom filled with all the Miss Universe and Miss Galactic Federation finalists for Miss Congeniality, and my heart would remain cold.  My mouth would be pinched.  I would loathe even the most remorselessly congenial among them.

But there is a way out.  All I need is a beginning.  "Call me Ishmael" has already been used, but maybe I can improve on it.

Tim -- Sundays


  1. There is no one who articulates the essence of the writing experience better than you, Tim. And by the way, I think you've hit upon a perfect chapter heading for the writer's state of mind when not pounding out the paper: "Call me Schlemiel."

  2. So, why AREN'T you writing?

    To paraphrase your own words back at you:

    When you're stuck, write. Even if it's nonsense, descriptions of irrelevant objects, write. Sooner or later something will click.

    When you start a book, you rarely know where it's going. Sometimes you write 30,000 words before you figure it out, and may end up throwing out 29,000 of those words. But those 30,000 help you figure it out, help you get started.

    A bad page is NOT the enemy, a BLANK page is the enemy.

    A writer writes.

    So why aren't you writing?

    (Okay, okay, I know, you have to recharge your batteries now and then, but really, why aren't you writing?)

    And never fear, you ARE a writer, and you WILL write again. And soon. Otherwise, I may have to grow my nose hairs really long, change my name to Murphy and hunt you down...

  3. You've done it, Jeff. Poke goes undercover as a Catskills resort comic. Brilliant.

    Everett, this is amazing advice. Gosh, the things that are available on the Internet. Problem is that I'm caught up in a whirlwind of non-writing activity for reasons that will be obvious in a week or two, and I know that if I get too involved I'll just have to pull the plug and go back to the other stuff. Sniff, sniff. Poor me.

  4. Whatever you're cooking up, I know you're a writer because if I go to Amazon, there you are. And you'e also listed in my library catalog. Maybe you need to be writing to remember, and to feel whole, but whatever the story, you are a writer. Okay, now that you've whetted our appetites, and our curiosity, keep noodling and think about what pleasure awaits you-and us :)

  5. "Call me Ismael" has been used and it has been read by millions of students under duress and by greater millions of students who never read past the first line. Every English teacher in the United States recognizes every line from the Cliff Notes edition.

    People who read Tim Hallinan are always ready and more than willing to read everything he writes. Can the same be said of Herman Melville? How many of the aforementioned students have read MOBY DICK more than once? I would guess only English teachers who have to try to get a new group each year to even open the book.

    Nathaniel Hawthorne has more enthusiastic fans than Melville.