Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Who Me? Retire?


Terry here, answering this week's question: Would you ever consider retiring from writing? Under what circumstances? How does it make you feel to consider retiring? I’ll begin at the end. The idea of retiring stuns me. Makes me feel like a big hole is yawning just ahead of me. Makes me feel lost.
I’ve been a story-teller since I could string enough words together to make up a story. Long before I could write, I was thinking in stories. I remember as a little girl seeing myself as if from a distance and narrating in my head what was happening in real life. (It sounds a little sinister when I put it like that. Like a dissociative personality.) But think it was just my way of flexing my story muscles. So the idea of retiring is like the idea of deciding to regress to the point where I am a pre-school child, unable to write my alphabet. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had moments of thinking it might be time to retire. But that’s nothing new. It usually happens about 50,000 words into a book, when I suddenly have to admit I don’t know what happens next.
Then, I tell myself that I’ve run out of ideas, that I’ve drained the well. I moan that I knew this was coming, that one day my imagination would fail me. There’s no end to the stories I can tell myself about how I became unable to write. I stare into that gaping hole of nothingness. I mope around. This would probably be a great time to do something wonderful—go get a massage, go shopping, take a little trip, call friends and arrange outings. But my imagination fails me so completely at those times that I am blank of even how to entertain myself. I can’t even pick up those New Yorkers that have piled up, and read them. Clean out a closet? Match my plastic containers with tops? No. I mope.
And then, suddenly a little germ of an idea poke its head out, usually in the form of “what if???” “What if x happened?” I have to admit that this “germ” often entails beginning over and completely changing the book. So I mope some more. And consider that maybe I should abandon writing and take up something lucrative, like full-time reading, or staring at the wall. I recently got a new kitten. Maybe I could take up full-time kitten entertaining. Then comes the point where I realize that the book was stupid anyway, and that I should start a new, more wonderful book. One that will be a masterpiece. Or at least readable. I begin fantasizing how easy the book will be to write. It will flow effortlessly from my pen. I will be a writer again. It will be glorious.
Notice, that by now, the idea of retiring has receded into the background. And at some point, my adult side takes over and reminds me that this is not the first time I’ve been through the 50,000-word angst. Sooner or later (usually the later) I gird my loins (whatever that means) and start in earnest brainstorming how to proceed. I’m a writer again. Or still. I live with the uneasy dread that one day I really will walk away. It’s happened. I’ve found myself losing interest in some things I thought I’d never give up—singing, for one. It used to be central to my life. But I haven’t sung in years, and don’t miss it. Playing the piano is another. Every now and then I have the vague idea of getting a piano, but I’ve lost the drive. Will that happen with writing? If it does, it will be the same natural evolution of things I cared about and no longer care about. But for now, I think of 911 ambulance drivers loading me onto the stretcher, and me screaming, “Wait! I have to finish that last paragraph!”


Anonymous said...

I love your "back story."--the little girl seeing herself from a distance and narrating her story.

Keith Raffel said...

Do you know Kanter's Law named after Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School: "Everything looks like a failure in the middle."