In one of his books (I can’t swear to it but it was probably “On Becoming A Writer”), John Gardner said that he was only able to write the novels he wrote because he was avoiding writing the novel he didn’t think he could write yet. That is to say, there was a book he wanted to write but didn’t feel that he had the craft for it yet, and wrote other things while he was gathering his strength and sharpening his tools and generally getting to be a good enough writer for the One True Book he wanted to someday write.
I understand what Gardner was talking about. There is a novel (called “The Builder’s Wife”) that I have been avoiding for the last couple of years. Since 2006 or 2007 maybe. It’s a dark comedy about love and infidelity and marriage and it features composer Franz Josef Haydn in a prominent role and it’s a fabulous story. But I have this idea that I’m not quite the author this book needs, at least not yet. I have a mental list of future books to write and whenever I get a new idea that I know I can make into a novel, it gets added to the queue and “The Builder’s Wife” gets pushed farther back into the depths of the future. Because I’m not a good enough writer yet.
Honestly, I know how foolish this is. I do. Mighty Reader sometimes asks me when the “Haydn book” is going to get written, and I wave the question away and mumble something about “when the time is right” even though the truth is that I could likely write the damned thing today if I sat down and made myself work on it. But I’m sure somehow that if I wrote the book now, the prose wouldn’t live up to my vision—however hazy and ill-defined that vision might be—of the book so I will put it off a bit longer. There are plenty of other books to be written in the meantime.
Am I alone with the late Mr. Gardner in this situation? Do any of you also have a One True Book that you’re avoiding by writing other books? Tell me about it, do.
Also, author Alex MacKenzie now has a proper blog about writing. Go follow her!