I’ve been staying at the Banff Centre for the Arts for the last 3 weeks, as part of the 2008 Writer’s Studio, and I’ll be here for two weeks more. In my real life, I hardly ever talk about writing. I only have a few friends who write, and even with them, it’s a topic that comes up rarely. But living in close quarters with 23 other fiction writers and poets, writing-related issues come up frequently – more frequently that anything else. Reviews, for instance, or the etiquette of walking into a bookstore and offering to sign your own book (a humiliating venture if it turns out they don’t have it in stock) – and, of course, the daily confrontation with the blank page. It’s soothing to discover that even seasoned, successful writers still have moments of self doubt, and still wonder, with each project, if they really have it in them to write another book.
Once I finished my first novel, I thought, the hard part would be over. No longer would I have to wonder if I was really a novelist; I’d know I had it in me to repeat the performance again and again for the rest of my life. So now I’m struggling with the opening scenes of novel #2, and, as it turns out, the second one is far more difficult than the first. Now I have to write something different – something better – than I did before. Now I have reviewers’ words haunting me as I write. Am I doing that thing again? I wonder, that reviewer X didn’t like? And then I think – maybe one novel is enough. Who needs to write more than one book, anyway? It’s funny that we sit at the breakfast table here sharing stories of the struggles and disappointments of publishing; go for walks and chat about the financial risks – probably insane in most people’s eyes – necessary to finish a first book; and then all go back to our rooms to write some more. Maybe all the stuff that comes after publication is just the icing, and so what if it’s not quite as sweet as we imagined.
For me, it seems I can’t be content unless I’m working on an extended work of fiction. So another novel it will have to be.