I remember the first time I sat down to write a novel. I was twelve. I cranked out the first few dozen pages and then stopped. Not much has changed since then. I still start novels. Most of the time I get five or ten thousand words into them and stop. I am sometimes told I should write short stories for this reason. The problem is that all my ideas are expansive. I don’t want to shrink a piece meant to be large down until it loses itself. It has occurred to me, of course, that I should seek smaller ideas. I have done this, but once I start punching them into my word processor the ideas turn out to have more to them than I initially thought they would, and there I am with another unfinished novel on my hands. This is not writer’s block. I have no problem cranking out material. I suffer from a deficit of creative attention. I will not shrug this off as an illness and take medication, however. I remain able to focus in many other areas of my life. Novels are just not one of them. Perhaps it is because the writing of a long work takes an exceptional richness of attention in order to pay off. One can have a normal attention span and end up feeling like a bouncing child relative to what other novelists seem to achieve. During my education I was blessed to work with writers whose success is real. Picking the brains of these disparate people, the only quality they seem to have in common is discipline, specifically the discipline to write full-time throughout a week regardless of what else is going on – be it work or family issues or anything else. Writing seems to be a very high priority for these published, bestselling folks, and must remain so. Again this frustrates me, as I write regularly and full-time and have yet to see anything like validation for my art. Of course, it has not been until the previous two months that I have really been working to get something published. This has not gone well. I have received two or three dozen rejections from agents and houses large and little for what is ultimately just one of my longer unfinished works. For I have progressed from writing few thousand words of novels that don’t conclude to writing tens of thousands of words that don’t conclude. This does not feel like progress. If anything it is more frustrating than only being able to go only a little ways. One has to take to the air in order to crash. Eventually I may get where I want to be, finishing and selling such work, but in the meantime I cannot help but think of myself as a failure by the standards I set for myself in younger years. This, however, is a common feeling as best as I can tell. Most set expectations for life that will never be approached, let alone reached. Yet I feel as they I have not approached my goal. The peak of completion feels impossibly distant. I am still that young boy every time I sit down. Like an addict I insist it will be different this time but only end up wasting my time because of what might just be a delusion. Now that I am told old to be the Fitzgerald I always thought I would be, I find myself thirty and with no finished novel. Luckily the lifespan of a writer is far longer than a pop star. If anything age seems to help rather than hurt ones chances for decades longer than in other more surface-based modes of expression. Artists sacrifice life in hopes of gaining a legacy that lets them live on after breath leaves them. So I live as if the side effect of poverty will be outweighed by the healing of a life lived as it was meant to be. I am not finished yet.
- Dylan James Brock