Literary Life

A writer in the doldrums

Adrift aimlessly in the doldrums

Having once been a sailor stuck in the doldrums — that band of motionless air around various equatorial regions, where sailboats caught in it may drift listlessly so long that it can take hours for spit in the water to drift away from the hull — it seems an apt word to describe my life as a writer these past months.

I should change the name of this blog from Random “Literary” Blogging to Useless Eclectic Blogging. How long has it been since a post with a literary or writing subject?

I do work everyday, or most days, but not as a writer; I am lately a typist or a transcriber. My working hours are filled typing my old novels into a word processor so they can be republished in ebook editions. Except for the small, small but vital, amount of editing I do along the way, this job could be farmed out to any typist.

During this recent rather long holiday, I carted along my writer’s toolkit, including computer, and over a few slack days in Boulder I did manage to type one more chapter of One Easy Piece into Word, but in Honolulu I did nothing but eat, drink, and be merry. I not only did nothing, I didn’t even think about doing anything that could resemble writing. This is not how I am. I have throughout my writing career — forty years of it — worked feverishly, never taking anything like a typical holiday, always working on a book. To go almost a month without writing a single creative sentence has never happened to me before.

Usually, when days or weeks pass without anything new added to this blog, the reason was because I was working well and didn’t have the mental energy left to write cogently here. But now, the gaps are not caused by overflow, but by emptiness.

I suspect that my spirit, the drive that always pushes writers forward, motivates them to work against all odds, provides the fuel that ignites to full flame the spark in their literary souls, has been snuffed out in the winds of publishing reality, of finding myself at this late stage confronting a new world of book publishing that does not interest me, that does not excite me. Change has left me behind. Maybe this is as it should be. The new always crushes the old as it stomps forward. I wish well those of you in the march of the new.

It is debilitating to the psyche to have written a fine novel, among my best work, and have no one notice or care. I am referring to “Blossom,” otherwise known as the Arkansas race novel. One does not anticipate this sort of non-reaction after a long career as an author, with the previous seven novels finding publishers easily and generating significant attention. (My agent says she will be sending Blossom around, starting about now, but I sense in her tone that it is simply perfunctory; also sense that she only keeps me around to respect a certain history.)

It is also debilitating to the psyche to have spent two years working on what along the way I kept thinking was my best work, only to realize at the end that as a novel it was an utter failure, and there may not even be hope of salvaging something good from those 110,000 words. I mean “And It’s Only Love.”

So that is why (Brad) that the most popular category lately on this blog has been “places and travel,” why I have nothing much to say about writing, books, or the literary life.

On the ocean, doldrums end. I recall the ecstatic welcoming of the first fresh smell of a breeze, the staysail beginning to tremble along the trailing edge, the ripple that signifies the wave, the rigging becoming taut and the turnbuckles ceasing their monotonous clanking …

I wait for such signs.

The first ripples on a glass sea

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11 replies »

  1. The publishing world has changed, but it’s not dead. There are lots of small presses that might be interested in your books, but you’ll likely have to hump that load yourself because an agent won’t be interested since there’s little money involved any more. But sometimes where there’s a lack of money, one can find love.

    • I would second this, about the small presses. The other good thing about them is, while your readership would likely be small, it would be dedicated. People who buy and read books from the small presses love literature for its own lovely sake. Your comment strings here would go on and on!

      My Kindle still impatiently awaits your forthcoming ebook.

      • I got way behind on the Kindle typing project while being a flagrant bum in Honolulu, but now back in the real world, I’m trying to type at least two hours a day. I am currently on page 183 of 288. The worst job ahead will be proofing the typing. Ugh!

  2. Mahalo.

    When one is stuck smack dab in place in what seems to be an infinitely still sea, it is difficult to anticipate a coming breeze, but I do understand that my future as a writer does lie with small presses that have book lovers on staff.

    For money, my hopes now lie exclusively with ebooking my old novels.

    But then, the writing life (maybe more than most others) is a crap shoot. Maybe the breeze will be a hurricane.

  3. I agree with Rose, the blogs about your travels are wonderful and always, always interesting fodder for the mind. I don’t think you’re creative days are over Don, maybe different, but certainly not gone.

    • I like the travel/people stories and photos, too, Tracey. I just felt guilty having the “literary” part of the blog title.

      You keep reading and I’ll keep trying to be creative.

      • It’s always been more than literary, hasn’t it? My interest in you is fueled by more than your wit and wisdom regarding literary arts or the publishing industry — in fact, it’s the wit and wisdom in general, whether you’re talking about Orhan Pamuk, some girl’s arresting legs, or how much dog shit you stomped through today.

        • You’re right, Brad. This blog has always had more of a conversational, story-telling intent than analyzing the literary arts.

          The subtitle — The musings of novelist DM — is a more accurate statement of what actually happens here.

          It is also true of what I read most, or pay the most attention to, with other blogs. My favorites, the ones I return to most often and miss most avidly during their dry spells, are the ones that reflect the “web journal” aspect of blog, rather than those that seem to be only an e-version of what I would rather read in books and print journals and newspapers.

          It is, as an aside, interesting and sort of fun to “sparkle up” these old works as I type them into the computer.

          Send me an email updating your writing situation.

  4. It’s really horrible what has happened to publishing in recent times. There seems to be no one – lit agents and editors included – who cares about a quality book. I feel sorry for you, Don.