Thursday, February 5, 2015


When I sit down to write, I am Scrooge haunted by Marley. The sins of my past rattle like a long chain. Sins of both commission and omission. I have left loved-ones behind. I have abandoned them, and they haunt me.

The loved ones in this case are my unpublished novels. I worked hard on them and sent them out to agents and once, through a fine agent, to publishers. I waited with boyish hopefulness that was gradually deflated by damnation with great praise. The writing was wonderful, the story was intriguing, but...

If they had just said, "Are you kidding me, this is crap," it would be easy not to think about the stories that now languish in my metaphorical desk drawer. But they made it sound like the stories were so close that it's hard to not go back and try to make them better, to give them each another shot. Of course, making your work better is what good writers do. Then there is clinging obsessively to a pitiful excuse for a novel. Which is which? How do you know?

Eventually I move on. After a point, I just don't have anything more to give a story. I've said what I wanted to say. Even if no one else will ever see it. It does not make me feel good to keep saying it. I feel like my father giving me lectures. He used to say the same thing a million different ways. It was boring to listen to.

I write to tell some story that's in me and wants to come out. The first draft is the most fun for me. The story exposes itself. I'm like a medium in a seance. I close my eyes at the keyboard and something speaks for me. 

Maybe that's the problem. Maybe I've tapped into the wrong netherworld.

I want to have others read my stories. I want them to be published. But I don't that to be why I write. For one thing, that would make for a lot of frustration. Who wants to do something that just produces frustration? 

When I'm writing, I'm happy in some way I don't even understand myself. I think about those old novels, those ghosts. I've read how others worked on a project for a decade before they finally got it published. I don't think I can do that. A couple of years is enough. Then it's time to move on. To try to capture lightening in some other bottle. To lay down the chain of my past and pick up the story of my future.


  1. You are a true writer, Mac! "When I'm writing, I'm happy in some way I don't even understand myself." To me, this is the sign of a genuine writer, one that is confirmed in the wonderful, engaging fiction of yours that I've had the chance to see. It can be brutal and heartbreaking, trying to publish fiction in this publishing landscape. I feel the heartbreak, often, myself! And it can make it so bewildering to know whether to hold onto a project, to keep trying to find a way into the castle of publishing. But I can assure you that you have no "pitiful excuses for novels" on your hands. The opposite. This idea of "if only this were better written, it would be published" --- in some cases, I buy this, but in the case of superb writers with genuinely engaging stories that touch on deep human truths AND entertain us in doing so . . . I have to say, I think it's the publishers that are the "pitiful excuses for publishers." The writing is on the wall!! It takes great courage to continue. You MUST continue!!

    1. I agree with everything Harriet says here. And the beautiful writing in this post supports us both.