Just wrapped a long and life-affirming e-mail exchange with a good friend, from a former life, who’s resumed work on an on-and-off novel she’s been attempting for most of the time I’ve known her. It’s a good premise, and she’s a good writer. I hope she’s going to finish it; I think she will – in part, because she told me, “the marathon story really inspired me to get going again. You should share it.”
OK. I will.
Reswyt had bounced around my head in a number of forms since 2005, but I didn’t really get started writing it until 2009, and I didn’t get serious about it until 2010. It took the confluence of two books entering my life at the same time for me to get any perspective – and to get moving with a purpose. Prior to these two books falling into my life – almost simultaneously – I’d sabotaged my progress with all the emotions any writer deals with. My writing sucks. This is going nowhere. I could be doing a lot of other things with my time; the nagging, never-ending self-critique and self-doubt that defines every writer’s existence.
Then, miraculously, Justin Cronin’s The Passage crossed my path in early summer of 2010, as Reswyt lay, a rusting hulk in the Great Creative Drydock, roughly one-third finished. It lay next to Valence, another 10%-complete idea I’d started in 2007, and Myrddin’s Mystic Accounts, a 2%-complete concept piece that had just begun to take shape. I started The Passage on a Friday and put it down late Sunday night, having literally sat up for the better part of two nights to finish it. The Passage was everything I’d ever wanted Reswyt to become: tight, gripping, imaginative, immersive, deep, well-paced. It was, in a single word, awesome.
At the exact same time, I had another book dropped on my doorstep by an acquaintance whose literary taste I’ve held to be suspect for a long time, but who was passionate in his praise for this particular work. I’m not going to name the book, or the author, other than to say you absolutely know his name, and you’ve seen a dozen of his potboilers being halfheartedly flipped through in airport bookstores for most of the past decade. In part to humor my associate, and in part out of morbid curiosity, I dove into it. It was everything I despise most about mass-market fiction; crudely-drawn, virtually one-dimensional characters lurching awkwardly about in a plot that telegraphed its every turn ten pages in advance and which freely licensed itself to introduce new plot points out of nowhere to save its rickety structure. It was, in two words, fucking awful.
The difference between the two, from the public’s point of view? Not much. Both were New York Times bestsellers. A lot of people liked both, although the Venn diagram of the audiences for the two probably didn’t overlap much, if you know what I mean. But qualitatively, there was a marked gulf between the two. A filet mignon and a…um…whatever.
One sunny July morning in 2010, I sat at our kitchen table, wrapping a copy of The Passage as a gift for a friend while Book the Lesser hunched on the corner of the table, in preparation for being returned to my acquaintance (“yeah…it was, um, fun”). And I had a revelation.There was absolutely no way, no matter how hard I tried, that I could possibly write anything nearly as good as one of these books, or nearly as bad as the other.
That was an electrifying moment for me. Here I’d been discouraged by aiming for an unreachable summit, unaware that I was simply going to end up on a spectrum – The Spectrum – somewhere between The Passage and Book the Lesser. Reswyt had the rust sanded off of it post-haste, and assembly got underway once again in a blizzard of literary welding sparks. By December, it had fully taken shape; by March, it was ready for an alpha edit. By June, it was in the hands of my beloved beta readers, and on September 28, 2011, it went live in the Kindle Store.
That revelation – The Spectrum – had everything to do with that process: I am neither the best, nor the worst, writer active today. (Faint praise for myself, I know, and I’m sure some Reswyt readers will take exception to the second part of that claim. Yes, I see you.) I’m just somewhere in between, like almost everyone else. As such, I should simply get started working, and have fun with it.
I’m not posting this as a paean to mediocrity; I’m disclosing it because, once you realize that your work is going to fall onto The Spectrum, it’s far easier to get moving with it. I’d put off writing forever because I was afraid I wasn’t going to write the greatest work in the history of human endeavor – and if I didn’t do so, what was the point in trying? In one fell swoop, I had it confirmed for me, in the form of The Passage, that I would not, in fact, be writing anything close to that good. But at the same time, I received a bit of sidewinding encouragement; namely, that Book the Lesser existed at all, and that someone – a lot of someones, in fact – had found this heap of shit enjoyable.
Thus, the marathon story.
In any marathon, there are always six people who get covered by the media. The person who finishes first, the person who finishes last, the person who wore the wackiest outfit, the youngest person to run, the oldest person to run, and the person who Surmounted The Most Significant Disability To Finish In Heartwarming Fashion(TM). if you’re not one of The Six, you usually don’t get much in the way of acknowledgment. Your family comes out to cheer, adult beverages are imbibed in volume after the race, and that’s it for you. That doesn’t mean the guy who finished seventh, or eleventh, or nineteenth, isn’t a great runner. I’m sure they’ve put in all the same lonely, cold road hours that The Six have; in all but one case, probably more. They’re great runners. World-class runners. But you’ll likely never hear a thing about them, and I doubt you could pick them out of a police lineup.
Ever heard of Richard Morgan? Jesse Bullington? Iain Banks? (Pause for effect). If you have, great; if you haven’t, well, don’t worry – they’ve never heard of you, either. They’re three of the better writers I’ve ever encountered. Morgan can be a little chewy, Bullington a bit uncomfortably…direct, Banks a touch unhinged at times, but make no mistake; they’re awe-inspiring writers. I’ve never strung five words together that read as well as their ISBN numbers. Outside of a few rare press mentions, though, they’re not among The Six. Someone might have optioned some movie rights at one point, or another might have gotten some press in one of those why-aren’t-you-reading-these-authors articles (and why AREN’T you, anyway?) But by and large, they’re marathon finishers six, thirteen, and twenty-one. Who gets covered? The bulk product movers (you know who they are); the Bulwer-Lytton crowd; the shocking one-off authors; the zeitgeist capturers. Otherwise, it’s thanks for running! Hope you had fun today.
Morgan and Bullington and Banks (there’s a law firm for you) write not to be among The Six, although I’m sure they’d love to be. All three are absolutely, without question, better writers, with better stories to tell, than seven out of any ten books topping the New York Times charts – guaranteed. They write because they want their stories to come forth. They write for the pure joy of writing. They, too, know that they’re on The Spectrum somewhere – that somewhere, there is a writer better than them, and one better than that one, and one probably better than the both of those two put together. They know, just as confidently, that they can write circles around the next guy down, and the guy down from there, and somewhere down there, the dude in Littleton with the Egyptian dreaming book with the funny name. They’re cool with it.
So am I, and becoming cool with it got me moving. You should, too. Get started. Do it today. Get the juices moving. NaNoWriMo is just around the corner; be a part of it.
Run, entrant #381.