During my conversation with Dori Ostermiller on Tuesday’s Author2Author, we fell to talking about the challenges of writing one’s second (published) novel. Gone now are the yearnings and questions of the unpublished writer; gone is the mystery of the publishing world; gone, hopefully, is the illusion that publishing a book will solve all of life’s doubts. Instead there is the question, “Can I do it again?”; instead there is the pressure of a contract; instead there are emails from editors and agents asking how it’s going; and instead there is the peculiar self-consciousness that comes with the understanding that actual strangers really do read these things you write in absolute privacy and about which they draw their own sovereign conclusions. Publication, it seems, means only swapping of one set of anxieties for another.
I can hear the still-unpublished-writer grousing, “Nice problems to have.” Remember, however, that the sophomore author’s problems are the same as your problems: nonexistent. I dislike the word problem. Problems can be solved. I solve math problems and fix the problem of the leaking sink. You cannot, for instance, solve the question, “Can I do it again?” because the answer to that question resides in the future and you are condemned to live forever in the present.
And wasn’t this just what Dori and I talked about in the end? The mind – the restless, anxious, problem-solving mind, which, in its own delusion and mania, believes the future can somehow be answered like a puzzle. To write is to seek the eye of the storm. Within the eye is the calm needed to tell a story that has no real reason for existence other than it wants to exist. Outside that eye is the tempest of fear, all that does not exist but which siren-like beckons your attention.
There is no answer for the tempest. You cannot dispel it. It exists as soon as you look upon it, gains strength as soon as you venture into it, consumes all your energy as soon as you try to fight it. As writers the tempest is uniquely alluring, full as it is of drama. Isn’t drama what our stories require? But the journey of any story is always out of the tempest and to the heart of peace, where, if you only lift your eyes, you will notice you already dwell.
Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!