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13 October 2009 @ 07:04 pm
books that won’t be written  

Every once in a while something mind-bogglingly awful happens during or even before the creation of a book, and that something means the book will never be written. Sharon Lee has just made mention of such a book. Fairly recently the third novel of Melanie Rawn’s Exiles trilogy, another such book, was mentioned in comments. Sharon Lee says it seems to be something readers have particular difficulty understanding, and that it must just be a Writer Thing that writers must beg patience for.

I think she must be right. As a reader, man, I would go to great lengths for the third Exiles novel. I don’t know what exactly happened in Ms. Rawn’s life during the creation of that series, but I had it from her that there wouldn’t be a third book due to Bad Association, and as a writer, boy can I sympathize with that. It makes it somewhat easier for me to let the hope of the book go (I’ll never entirely give up hope, but nor do I have any actual expectation at all that it’ll come to be).

I have, though, talked to non-writers whose brains do seem to kind of cramp up at the idea that there’s something sufficiently awful about what happened around the production of a book that it could keep a writer from ever ever ever wanting to go near it again. God knows writers do continue to write through horrific events, so even to me there’s a kind of “well what could possibly be THAT BAD?!” aspect to it.

And honestly, of course, I don’t know. Everybody’s got their own personal bounce-back level. I know people who’ve written books through the deaths of multiple family members and bad divorces; I know JK Rowling went through a terrible, terrible bout of writer’s block when she was dealing with legal matters during the writing of the fifth Harry Potter book. She eventually (obviously) finished the book–but not until after the case was settled. Lee & Miller went through a tremendously awful publisher meltdown. I have friends who’ve had sufficiently bad agent experiences to stifle their writing. Individual threshholds lie in different places. But I think to me, these kinds of things are perhaps most of what constitute real, honest-to-God writer’s block.

Because let’s face it. All of us who are out here writing books on a professional level are doing a job. Writer’s block–the poetic, O No, The Muse Is Not Moving Me thing that people talk about–isn’t really an option. We have bills to pay, and waxing romantic about muses doesn’t get it done. *Believe* me, if something in a writer’s life has created such a bad association with a book or series that they can’t open the file, can hardly bear to think about the series at all, that’s going to be legitimate, because writers can’t afford–usually literally, nevermind figuratively–to feel that way.

I’ve written a book that went so badly I had a wee emotional breakdown while writing it. It’s two years later and I still don’t want to even really think about writing more books in that world. If that’s not writer’s block–just the flat out “no, I am not prepared to do that” at the idea of revisiting that world in book-length fiction–I don’t know what is. And at the same time I figure I’m fairly lucky, because I think someday I’ll probably be happy to go back to that world and write more books in it. It’s just, you know. Not any time in the next oh, several years, thanks.

I think readers are generally aware that, yeah, writing is a creative process. But since most of the time what we as readers see is books on the shelf–or more frustratingly, not on the shelves–without any explanation as to the whys or wherefores of being there or not, it’s sometimes hard to remember that there are real people behind them, and that creating worlds in your head and getting them written down isn’t necessarily a cut-and-dried process.

(x-posted from the essential kit)

Current Mood: pensivepensive
-peartreealley on October 13th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
It's like anything, really, that you have a bad association with. You want to avoid it.

You avoid a certain block because a friend died in a car crash there. You avoid watching shows about certain subject manner because it reminds you of something personal.

And you avoid writing in worlds and characters that put you back into that time and head space when something horrible was happening.
irishkate: writingirishkate on October 13th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
It is the part of writing that terrifies me - you have a good idea - you sell it or even write the first book or two and then.....for whatever reason finishing or writing the next book becomes a horror and where do you go from there? And now (if you are lucky?!) you have fans waiting or even yelling at you to finish?

To all such writers, hugs
Autopopeautopope on October 13th, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC)
I'm there. (I won't write a third Eschaton novel. I may well not write any more Merchant Princes books either.)

All you can do is come up with something new and better, and hope the fans eventually learn to let go and follow you on.
mayakdamayakda on October 13th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
For some reason your post title makes me think of that song from Les Miz about "Empty chairs at empty tables."
kitmizkit on October 13th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
I'm less poetic, but yeah. :)
mevennenmevennen on October 13th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
And I suppose there is also the opposite - the splinter of ice in the writer's heart mentioned by Graham Green in which everything becomes grist to the writer's mill. BANNER OF SOULS was writing during my partner's terminal illness and subsequent death, and gradually became a book about death. I guess (again with the writer quoting) like William Burroughs, I wrote my way out. I couldn't afford not to finish it, for a start, and also it was an escape. I had no compunction about returning to that world in WINTERSTRIKE, and would do so again. But it is a purely personal thing.
martyn44martyn44 on October 13th, 2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
Which came first, the human being or the writer? If someone we respect, maybe even think we like because we think we know them through their writing, cannot go somewhere for whatever reason, they deserve our compassion. Writing is a strange enough process - complex of processes? - and that is why the magic is there when it works. It costs enough without anyone demanding blood as well.

T.M. Thomastmthomas on October 13th, 2009 07:33 pm (UTC)
Just imagine the horrors you'll experience collaborating on that Gemma Fade novel with me. You may not want to type anything for years afterwards.

Edited at 2009-10-13 07:34 pm (UTC)
16:9 1.78:1 OAR: Ryusixteenbynine on October 13th, 2009 07:35 pm (UTC)
I've spent enough time in a job where I write for a living (nonfiction) that it's become a lot easier for me to sit down and turn the muse on and off at will. It also means that a nosedived project is more like a speedbump than auguring headfirst into a brick wall.

The whole business of writers being seen as book-dispensing machines in a meat overcoat reminds me of a line attributed to Edgar Winter: "The time I was in hospital was the only time people didn't treat me like a f-ing jukebox."
SaffronRosesaffronrose on October 13th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
Harlan Ellison's Last Dangerous Visions. 30 years or more and counting, maybe.
roseaponiroseaponi on October 13th, 2009 07:58 pm (UTC)
I've wondered what was wrong with me that I couldn't finish my senior project - a novel-in-progress that was Southern lit fic and won me an award in college. I can't even begin to write Southern lit fic of any sort now, though I studied it extensively in college and gained fans for it in crit class.
I graduated, did nothing creative for awhile, and then switched to speculative fiction.
Now I think that the graduating, getting married, funerals, probate court stuff, family drama, and moving into a house that needed a complete overhaul that all happened around that time might possibly have something to do with that.
Thanks, Kit and Sharon. I needed to know that can happen.
Cally Beck: swim sinkeldestmuse on October 13th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
I try to think of it like any other broken contract--you have every right to break a contract because Something Comes Up or whatever other Personal Reason might happen, but that doesn't mean that just because you're a writer and it's a Creative Process, there aren't consequences. I can sympathize with the reasons behind the issue (when someone bothers to explain said reasons--I am always a bigger fan of authors who keep their readers informed, though I don't hold it against people like, say, Lilith Saintcrow and Kelley Armstrong who keep their Personal Lives PERSONAL so far as I know) even while being irked at the lack of professionalism implicit in leaving something half-finished.

It's morally OK to quit a job because the working conditions are unbearable... but you're still quitting a job.
bookmobilerbookmobiler on October 14th, 2009 12:54 am (UTC)
Sharon Lee has just made mention of such a book
Sharon is interesting in this regard because she has a book that wont be written interspersed with a series that wouldn't die even after a hellishly long gap(from the readers point of view.) The Liaden universe lives on!

Geek of Weird Shitgows on October 14th, 2009 02:41 am (UTC)
I’ve written a book that went so badly I had a wee emotional breakdown while writing it. It’s two years later and I still don’t want to even really think about writing more books in that world.

Obviously, I was "around" when this was happening, but the write->publish->read delay means that I can't recall which one it was. Also, between getting older and time speeding up, plus your level of prolific-ness, and things get all smeary in the memory section of my brain. o.O
kit: negotiatormizkit on October 14th, 2009 10:10 am (UTC)
HANDS OF FLAME. That was the book I rewrote six times before I got to page 300. It was by far the worst writing experience I've ever had, which, given the general hell of writing that trilogy, is saying something.
Childlightchildlight on October 14th, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC)
The fact that Melanie Rawn never finished the Exiles trilogy is why I will never read another book by her. I do not want to be left with such a heart breaking cliff hanger again.