The Year that Wasn’t
I write slowly, and these days I mostly write long, basically because I suck at short stories and because I’ve (mostly, temporarily) stepped back from journalism. As a result it’s totally possible for me to do an entire year of really intense work and come to the end of it having published practically nothing.
2018 was such a year!
I wrote a book review in the New York Times with a very creepy 1970’s-style sci-fi illustration. An essay of mine appeared in a wonderful book about fantasy maps. I also gave a lecture or two. But apart from that (unless I’m forgetting something, which is totally possible) I just wrote and wrote and wrote and didn’t publish anything.
I spent a lot of this year working on a novel about King Arthur called The Bright Sword. I turned in a first draft of it in January and a second draft in September, but I figure it’s going to take one more major revision before I can really say I’m in the endgame. You wouldn’t think it would take this long but Arthur is just one of those many-layered multi-chambered subjects that it’s really hard to feel like you’ve come to grips with in any kind of a satisfying way. And it’s a very old story, and I want to feel like it’s getting traction on what feels like a very new world while still remaining true to its old-ness.
Plus people have been writing about Arthur for so long, literally more than a thousand years. You look back at that huge long line of brilliant writers behind you, and they’re all looking at you, and you think jeez this had better be good.
But surely my good man you can’t sit around writing about King Arthur all day every day!
You’re right! I really can’t. I frequently burn out on projects and have to put them down for while and get some perspective. To be totally honest I haven’t even really touched The Bright Sword for a couple of months now because when I look at it all I can see is this kind of black-hole-sun thing where a manuscript should be and then I have to make a saving throw vs. madness.
So I’ve been working on other things instead. I read and commented on scripts for the Magicians show as they came in (the fourth season just wrapped a few weeks ago and will start airing in January). There’s also a deeply awesome Magicians graphic novel coming out next summer, which I didn’t write (the brilliant Lilah Sturges did), but I did look over everybody’s shoulders and make them feel uncomfortable while they worked on it.
And there are other other things too.
Up until two years ago I still had a day job as a staff writer at Time magazine, and when I left—and gave up the salary—I knew I would have to start up some non-novel projects, because it takes me so long to write novels that my family would probably run out of money in between them. And I felt burnt out on journalism. So I took up screenwriting instead.
Writing for Hollywood is one of those things novelists are not ever supposed to do ever, and I get that: it can be an incredible time- and soul-devourer. But at the same time when you’re in the business of storytelling it’s hard not to get interested in TV and movies, which are powerful and immediate in ways that are equal to — but very different from — novels. Plus scalewise they’re just incredibly dominant. I mean if you sell a million books you’re a massively successful author. If a million people watch your TV show, well, you’re 1/16th of Young Sheldon.
And kibitzing on the Magicians show, watching those guys work, made me wonder what it would feel like to tell stories that way. Writing is a lot about visualizing the book that you want to read but which hasn’t been written yet and then writing it. I started to realize there were un-made shows and movies I wanted to watch too.
(And there’s the money, right? True. Though for the time being at least I make much more from books than I do from screenwriting.)
So starting two years ago I began flying out to L.A. and talking to people. I did all the things. I lunched. I pitched. I was mentored. And slowly some projects have begun to materialize.
Annoyingly (and really there aren’t many things more annoying than when people say this) I can’t talk about them yet. They have developed to the point where I’m getting paid for them (which is a relief) but they haven’t quite developed to the point where they’ve been announced yet. But I’m super-excited about them, and hopefully it will all be out there soon.
Meanwhile I just badly miss finishing things and putting them out in the world. In most ways this was an incredibly great year: my family’s healthy, my house isn’t falling down, and I’m writing! And I love writing, I love this business of pouring all your thoughts and feelings into words. But with no one reading them it does start to feel a bit like playing Scrabble with yourself.
Which is great, don’t get me wrong. I’ve done enough of it to know! But enough is enough.
I’ll see you next year.