KNOWING WHEN NOT TO WRITE
(This entry will sound defensive, but it's not. It's more about how you make decisions in your career as a writer and when you give yourself leave not to feel guilty about not writing.)
A few people, some out of concern, some perhaps out of exasperation at finding a VanderProject or VanderInterview staring back at them from the computer screen every time they turn on their computer, have asked me, "What's happening with your writing? When are you going to start on the next novel?"
This presupposes a few things, I think.
(1) That I announce every new fiction project before I start working on it. (I do not.)
(2) That I should be writing another novel right now.
(3) That I am somehow over-extending myself on peripheral stuff.
(4) That the projects I am working on are not worthwhile or not "independent" projects.
But most importantly, this line of questioning assumes I'm not writing. Or somehow stagnating, much as a boxer stagnates if he doesn't stay busy in the gym. Well, not to fear on that count: blog entries, short stories, movie scripts, day job English passages for kids, introductions for collections, interviewing other authors...all of this is a way of staying in shape. Much of it doesn't push me creatively, but some of it does, and the rest of it is various enough that it keeps me flexible and balanced.
At the same time, there are things I should not be doing right now. I should not, in a year where I have two major books out (City of Saints in Feb., Shriek in Jan/August) and a rather intense travel schedule, beat myself over the head for failing to start the next Ambergris novel. Nor would I necessarily be starting the next novel (or resuming it, rather) even without the distractions. Shriek took a lot out of me and I need time to recharge.
I'm actually not prolific in the fiction department--I just had a lot of stuff rejected for a long time and then suddenly had it all taken and published over a relatively short period of time. I do not subscribe to the write-a-novel-a-year plan. I do not even subscribe to the write-a-novel-every-five-years plan. They take as long as they take and they're not product. They're hand-crafted and individualistic, and with any luck someone reads the finished work and says to themselves, whether they like it or hate it, "No one but Jeff VanderMeer could have written that."
The ways in which I'm challenging myself creatively this year are ways that will help my fiction writing in the long run--like creating a short film script, something I've never done before. Like shooting and editing a documentary, also from a loose script.
If I choose not to write much fiction this year, it is because I don't want the quality of that fiction to suffer because of other projects. It is important to me that I always give my best effort to my fiction, because that is the core of who I am as a human being. I have no religion. I have only my personal relationships and my writing, and things associated with the writing.
I also strongly believe that when you get to a point in your career where you can help your fellow writers and can use your leverage to make certain kinds of projects happen...well, that you should do everything within your power to help people and do projects. Otherwise, what's the point? So now that I am in this position, that's what I intend to do. Five years from now I might not have the leverage to do these kinds of things. Hopefully that's not the case. But who can tell?
And, finally, as anyone who has followed my career knows, I go through phases. It would be uncharacteristic for me to follow a novel with another novel without some kind of editing project inbetween. I like the change of pace.
All this by way of saying, a writer's life is a long one, usually, and filled with many permutations and projects and ambitions and obsessions. I like to do what interests me and I'm passionate about--and that varies from year to year, month to month. My mind is always thinking about the next fiction project, but I may not always set pen to paper to capture the immediate thought. Better to let it mature and to let other things I'm doing permeate my fiction before setting aside the solitary time needed to begin writing in earnest.
In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy the interesting things I've got up my sleeve in the next year--including, of course, the US release of Shriek, only the biggest publication event of my career to date.