Although I have written under some awful circumstances, I think most writers write well when they are doing well. A good solid job that provided time to write is a blessing. I worked as a janitor for years, and it was a job I didn’t take home with me. It was solid but non-demanding work once you understood it, and it allowed me to put beans on the table while I wrote. Finally the money I was making from writing was as good as the money I was making from being a janitor, and when I quit being a janitor it didn’t take long before I was making much more writing full time. I kept my janitor notebooks for years though, fearing I might have to go back to work cleaning toilets and buffing floors.
I like hearing about the paths different writers take to reach success. Unfortunately, I think some use it as an excuse to try and show how quirky or eclectic they are. That’s fine, everyone is entitled to identify themselves however they want. But guys like Lansdale, or James Lee Burke, or Larry Brown . . . these guys often walked in the shoes they put their characters in. Same with Louise Erdrich; maybe Louise in particular. I often wish I had the kind of day job where, if I wasn’t there doing it, or if I went on vacation, didn’t leave me with a pile of accumulated backlog to handle when I return. Taking time off can be the most stressful part of it, frankly.
Anyway, more from Lansdale, concerning the kind of writing one chooses to do. This bit really hits close to home, considering my own reflections from a couple days ago:
There’s another side to this. Writers who put down profound work because they can’t do it or don’t want to do it. Do what you like, and do it as well as you can. Most profound stories didn’t start out to be profound. They started out to be told. I AM LEGEND was written because Richard Matheson wanted to write it, and may have had bills to pay…Bet he did. But it is also profound in a sneak up on you kind of way. I think when we hesitate to write something we want to, and we’re looking over our shoulder thinking what the critics will say, we’re being insecure about our work, not about depths or shallownees. I’m not suggesting anyone write shit, but just write the story they want to tell. You never know where it will lead. Fuck genre. Fuck Universities. Write.
One point I was trying to make is I don’t believe any of us know what an audience wants, and the best kind of writing is the kind where you create your own audience. If we knew what everyone wanted to read we would all hit it out of the park everytime. A good work may only be read by a few people, or it can be a runaway sensation. A bad work can do the same thing; bad in the sense that it may lack many literary values, but somehow speaks to people. So, in the end, all we have is writing for ourselves.
What great stuff, especially coming from a guy who is a phenomenal writer, and has made his territory the fringes of what is considered by the corduroy crowd as “important” writing. I’ve read a number of his short stories, one or two essays, and have his The Complete Drive-In, though I haven’t read it. I’ve also been meaning to grab his latest, Edge of Dark Water, which from what I’ve heard is fantastic. I’ll be moving all that up the TBR pile, you can count on it. . . .