Writer’s Slump and Other Maladies

I know what writer’s block means, but what about writer’s slump? Or writer’s blues, or writer’s despair, or writer’s disillusion? Or writer’s whine? Post partum depression? The Yaqui Novel has been sent off to the Book Designer. I don’t know who that is or where that person lives, whether it’s a man or a woman, big or small, nor what color or religion. Or whether they are worried about their taxes and hence not putting their full attention on my book.

That collection of pages has gone through the Editor, three times, with we me coming along behind, like the millwright who is asked to take up the slack in this chain or that and to re-weld the great band saw blade (plot) that has snapped, lashed around and cut off a few characters at the knees.

Then came the Proofreaders. They read the text aloud to each other. Was it to keep from falling asleep? Were they alert enough to catch the errata that the human eye and brain do not catch—the missing Spanish accent, the two definite articles sneaking through together, “the the,” and “that” where a “who” should have been, since the antecedent was a person and not a thing? Or where I had written “lay” for “laid,” when thought I was saying the past tense of laying something down. This is a flaw in my English, which I think I should blame on my parents, since I never knew I had it. And about that last “which,” in the sentence before, was it non-restrictive enough, or should it have been “that”?

Warning to want-to-be writers: There is never one last perusal of the manuscript. That is because you have never found the last erratum, i.e. mistake. And the reason for that is that you make assumptions, for example, that you have scanned this or that passage the required twenty times. Then you have sent the manuscript off labeled “Final” and lie in bed at three the next morning, realizing you did not do a one last, full check of the book’s epigraph, that pithy little quote at the beginning of the book that speaks for the whole 80,000 words.

The book has left the station. Others will decide its cover design, title and print font. So you have plenty of time worry. Will there be some sexist photo that will offend women? I read you should never have a horse on the book cover. Then there are the blurbs. You go to other writers and beg them to write three or four lines that can go on the back cover and explain to the world that you are the greatest thing since Shakespeare. For me, it’s always like asking the prettiest or most popular girl to dance. Am I out of my mind? Won’t they just roll their eyes as I stare at my feet, while being sucked down into Writer’s Bog?

People are kind. Finally you get your blurbs and send them off to the Publisher, reminding him to send them on to the Book Designer. You hope he doesn’t forget. Should you remind him a week later, in case something came up and the blurbs languish somewhere short of their destination? But say the blurbs arrived, still, how would anyone know the book has been born? They won’t unless there has been pre-publicity, something that requires pre-planning, a luxury that little presses don’t necessarily have if they’re juggling several new books at once. Some writers brazenly ask their friends and distant relatives to buy their book through Amazon and to please review it, if they like it, and all on the same day in order to trick the company’s computers into ranking the book at the top of the list and to continue for some time with that advantage. To bring this off, you have to pull on your Brazen Pants, your literary Lederhosen—retiring, introverted writer that you are. This activity falls into the sphere of howling self-absorbed, self-promoting Jackass and can backfire on you, when the called-upon masses begins to think you’re taking yourself, your book and your writing too seriously.

It is said that readings and book signings at bookstores and Elks Clubs are a waste of time. Right away I can think of one devastating counter-example where one mega-writer sold 400 copies of his new book at a single reading—enough to keep me awake three nights in a row.

Book publishing has changed. Thousands, perhaps millions of books stream into Amazon’s computers where they are sucked into a black hole of equal opportunity oblivion. In that place, you cannot walk along a shelf, pulling out books, putting them back, stumbling on the unexpected, poking around, browsing. With Amazon you have to know what you’re looking for.

In the first place, you have to be a reader. That means being a woman, since women read in far greater numbers than men. That probably has to do with brain development, since we all know that sports and gadgets stunt growth. I am also a man. This perhaps explains my anxiety about the whole matter, often unjustly identified as whining. Much of my reasoning loses footing the way feet lose footing when placed in ankle-depth waves. Saturated with the Internet, I “relax” by watching a skillful television series (The Good Wife, Downton Abbey) at night—making myself my own worst enemy. If I’m not reading at night (because I am not a woman?), how can I expect anyone else to? I have not read most of the novels I excitedly downloaded on my Kindle. What does that mean? The Internet encourages acquisition but discourages follow-through? People still prefer tangible books. I know because my bedside reading table holds stacks of books that I read in dribbles. But if they (men) won’t read books, why go to all the trouble to write them?

I knew the answer to this question way back before the Time of the Slump. There is something in me that likes to tell a yarn to any audience that, in spite of everything, likes to hear a yarn. Is that earlier insight enough to over come Whine-slump? I think the answer is yes. Even writing this and throwing it out into the ether—with all the pertaining risks—makes me feel good .

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