Breaking up is hard to do

Some say that a writer begins a book and a reader finishes it. That is after the book has been written and published, readers either like it or they don’t and see in it one thing or another because it’s time for the writer to move on.

For the writer, it’s like breaking up with a lover.

S/he has to begin writing the next book. Not too quickly, though, or the next book will turn into a rebound kind of thing, ill-conceived and overly filled with everything the newly released book didn’t have.

Some writers have book projects stacked up in notebooks, each waiting to capture the writer’s time and heart. I don’t. Not that I go to bars looking for them or sign up with online dating outfits: “meet beautiful Russian ideas just waiting to please” or “sexy singles in your town hoping for marriage.”

No writer wants people to say s/he’s on the make. That seems, somehow trashy as though s/he’s going to turn to a beach read or the kinds of books you find in airports or worse yet a book on a street corner that might really be a vice cop waiting to grab the writer in a hurry.

It’s sad when a writer gets so desperate to move on from the break-up from his most recent book, that s/he picks up a bereaved idea from an accident scene or a funeral like a cheap lawyer chasing a client, any client. And then, too, there some writers apparently get drunk or go nuts and pick up an idea that’s young enough to be their son or daughter or, at best, arm candy that will lead nowhere good.

Then there are the matchmakers. They have an idea or know somebody at their church with an idea or play duplicate bridge in a group with a lot of sweet young ideas all of whom are God’s gift to the right writer. Some are desperate, while others are bitter and resigned to never making it into marriage, much less into print. Others are a little rough, but I’m told they’ll “clean up nice.”

If all this is drifting into the kind of post that sounds sexist, I should tell you that an author’s relationship with a book idea is in many ways like a love affair and has similar hopes and jealousies and wrong things said (or written) at the worst possible moments. If one rushes into the right book idea too quickly, it will burst into flames and later when you chance to meet in some gin joint at a fated moment, you can say, “we always had Paris” and think sadly about the book that might have been if you hadn’t acted to crass with the delicate possibilities before the idea was fully formed in your heart and soul.

Sure, if my writer’s life was a movie, some well-meaning colleague who’s already going steady with a book idea would tell me to shave, put on a clean set of clothes and go with him or her to a nearby barn dance or USO canteen where the camera shots, dialogue, and music would clue in the audience before I knew what hit me that “this is the one.” I wish it were that easy.

Lord knows I can’t go looking for ideas at Walmart because we all know what kinds of ideas hang out there.

So, with the release of Lena, I’m sitting here alone at a silent keyboard, ashtray full of cigarette butts, a wastebasket overflowing with empty Scotch bottles, vicariously reading other people’s books.

Whatever you do, please don’t try to “help.”

Malcolm

 

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