Friday, July 8, 2011

Quitting at Last

This is what bothers me:  After nearly twenty years of writing short stories and occasionally selling one or two, I have to face the prospect that perhaps I've overstayed my welcome, that perhaps my talent has at last played out, that my race is run, the tide is going out, the dark night approaches and all of those other literary allusions that are trite and boring when endlessly repeated redundantly over and over ... well, you get the idea.

The bitter fact that writers have limited periods of productivity, that they eventually outlive their fan base or face a dearth of ideas, which is a particularly horrid fate for the short story writer who depends on expressing ideas engagingly as opposed to story, came to my mind as I read a pair of related blogs by Sarah Hoyt and Kay Kenyon dealing with similar issues. Apparently I am not the only one who is bothered by these inner voices of doubt and fear of failure.

This is not the first time I've dealt with the problem of writerly mortality.  In fact, I think of this at least three times a week, more often when the brain stutters and spits, seeking a word that will just not materialize to complete the sentence or when the plot wanders aimlessly off the reservation into areas I hadn't intended or when a character suddenly changes from a brilliant puppet into a wooden soldier who is unable to squeeze a single emotion from his all too solid frame. Yeah, that's when the doubts arise.  
So I ask myself when might be a good time to call it quits, to fold the tent and ... no, no, no - I won't go there again or we'll all die of metaphoric or analogical metastasis. 

I honestly don't know when you can tell that it's a good time to quit - after a year of no sales, after the four hundredth rejection, or after the ideas stop exciting you awake in the night? What are the signs that you are finished? Can you tell? Will anyone whisper it to you at some obscure little con - the only ones that seem to welcome you?  Is there a right time, a good time, a proper time to vacate the stage for those pesky young upstarts? 

I think the time might be right, but before quitting I have a few things to finish, such as the novel that I've nearly finished rewriting, the one I have half done and the other one sadly left in outline, not to mention the sixteen short stories in various draft stages, the ones in eternal circulation hell, and the nifty Sam Boone idea I sketched out this morning after coffee and ..... Crap, looks like I'll have to resign myself to keep pecking away at the keys until those few things are completed, that is, if something else doesn't come up.

And maybe not having "something else" is the sign when I'll know for certain that it's time to quit.

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