Vol.1 Brooklyn is pleased to present an excerpt from Michael J. Seidlinger’s new book in the Bookmarked series–in this case, a book about Mark Z. Danielewski’s harrowing, experimental novel House of Leaves. In it, Seidlinger explores the influence of Danielewski’s novel on his own writing, and delves into questions of process, inspiration, and frustration.
SELECTIONS FROM A BOOK ABOUT A BOOK
I must be crazy. It’s got to be true, yeah. In more ways than one, there has to be some sort of mania to this desire. Maybe the writing itself has become a mode to combating misery. I stoke the fire with the worry that I won’t have any kindling, much less firewood, to keep things burning. Every sentence feels so much like it might be the last, and still there’s some worth in continuing, trying my best to see through the lines, believing distantly that I’m making the best of my time. I should slow down and look back, really give myself a chance to reflect on everything that’s happened up to this point. Equally crazy to think how much has transpired, given what little I had to begin with.
Like most writers, it starts with the desire. The desire to write something.
What led me here? What do I have to say, given that I’ve already had a chance to say something? Why waste any more time, both yours and the potential reader’s, if it turns out that you don’t really know if you have anything else to say? Why waste the time, churning and turning those pages when it’s all for the sake of routine? Is this, still, about the craft? What keeps me at this desk, tapping away at the keyboard in hopes of making the right choice?
And really, have I made the right choices—in life, in love, in art?
When it came to writing, it was never a possibility until ideas, whole scenes, formed in the back of my mind. You could say that continuous reading begets an overactive imagination, the urge to pen them to the page. A reader and a writer is more alike than one would initially consider, the work of another inevitably boosting the courage and curiosity of the reader for when “reader turns writer.” In my case, it started with writing long diary-style entries explaining each and every idea, no matter how fully-formed or fractured, in a completely telling manner.
That mania brought me here, up to this point. I didn’t just decide to read and the same goes with writing: I never decided to write. It just happened. I went from reading Cliffs Notes and winging every book report, never ever reading a single thing assigned to me at school, to 48hrs with House of Leaves and the subsequent obsession with books, books, and more books.
Once I started, I had no clue how to stop.
I bet this sounds similar to a lot of writers’ origin stories. I hope so. I’m counting on it.
I’m not sure I know how to slow down and second-guess where I’m going. I only know that I continue the same way I started: with the desire to explore.
I still have the desire. And no, I’m not just saying it.
I didn’t think I’d be here today.
A book is never just a book: It’s a beginning.
Inspiration is a precarious thing, something that I used to have seemingly all the time. It didn’t take much: watch some episode of The X-Files or read a paragraph or two of a JG Ballard or Haruki Murakami novel and the creative juices would be proverbially flowing. The effortlessness is no longer the case, these days. But then, I like to tell myself that the main reason for the lapse, why inspiration (read: ideas) is less frequent has more to do with the quality and demand of those ideas. I don’t just take anything these days. I demand more from something generated. This is a good thing, I tell myself.
It demonstrates a degree of experience.
I’m not just feeding on the influx and enthusiasm of a new idea; I’m inspecting and sculpting it like clay, looking to see if it can be melded into shape.
Ideas are loose change. The ones that are really worth something are the ones that carry along with them some greater sense of inspiration. If ideas really were currency, the ones with some real inspiration would be the hundred dollar bills.
Really though, this isn’t anything new.
I’d tell myself whatever I needed to hear if it meant being able to sit here and write without dreading the end result, confusing worry for some sort of despair that almost always culminates with: “I’m a bad writer” and/or “I’m all out of ideas.”
But isn’t that always the way?
One new idea a month. That’s twelve new ideas that could really become thick concepts, ones that might hold my ever-fading interests.
Then I wonder if the concept at the core of this book qualifies as a thick concept.
Or is it what I’ve been dreading since the second paragraph of this chapter, a thin concept? How long does it take before understanding that you are, deep down, certifiable?
Inspiration’s the most difficult part of the creative process. One cannot begin without first finding reason and motivation for the intended work. This is before the part about maintaining it; you know, actually having it and keeping it. You never know when something will distract, suck out the energy.
It’s a miracle anyone is able to finish writing a book, much less inspire others.
But hey, let’s turn that frown upside down: The fact that it does, and happens often, is testament to the creative spirit. Truly inspiring.
Maybe all the inspiration I need.
Often times, managing certainty in a work-in-progress is like carrying a secret. You hold onto it so dearly that it’s easier, more difficult, some days than others. Really, you just want to let the world know.
You want to confess everything if only to get a true measurement of your madness.
Is this idea any good? Is the concept actually completely insane and impossible, beyond accessibility? Someone’s got to satiate the author’s concern. No one wants to be alone with something so precarious as a novel project for too long or else they might give into the doubt.
Do you start a book with the hope of eventually selling it? Do you write knowing that it’ll be a book, image of what that book should be, or do you just write, hunting the line?
As writers, and more so as artists, we set ourselves up for failure. We must if we’re going to dare to achieve anything.
Not going to fail. Not going to fail. Sadness on the installment plan.
Get used to a lot of despair when the words just won’t come, time ticking away, and you realize that you’ve spent an hour or more looking online for ways to not procrastinate. It’s such a vicious cycle. There’s a way to procrastinate about procrastination.
You’re going to write if you really have it in you. I write because I do. I intend on continuing, even though things might not be going so well right about now.
For every novel I finish, I end up with upwards of four, maybe five, false starts.
The next book. Yeah, there’s always the thought about “what do I work on next?”
Which one calls to me, and more so, why bother to write it at all—is it worth being a potential book? I write because it has become life. I write because many of my relationships have become intertwined in the act of publishing. To write is to continue living.
Every new project is panic attack and pleasure.
You look outside. It’s a beautiful, sunny day. Perfect for a mind-expanding walk. But you have a thousand words to write. You have a deadline. You need to write. You can’t look away from the screen. There are a million things you’ve got to do, and they all seem more daunting than “finish your novel.” You feel exhausted, lost just thinking about it. Maybe you feel a little foolish about being serious about your fact. And then you start to feel the stress clouds coming in, the pressure on forehead, the dimmed vision, the thoughts raging, running a mile a minute.
Do you go for a walk or do you stick around, sitting at your seat?
Maybe you’re like me. You keep sitting there. You drink more coffee. You waste time on social media. You fixate on where you want to be years from now. You dream about the good, followed by the bad. You perhaps even contemplate suicide but the sheer intensity of having to prepare for it—to get it right—turns you off. That’s too much work. And really, it’s just a nice thing to think about. Having that escape. If need be. Nothing is ever final. Not even student loan debt. You can always flee. You can always flee.
But somehow I end up writing the damn thing.
After all the existential despair surrounding the writing of a novel, I end up here, at the end of the project, staring back, heart racing, surprised that I’m close, and anxious to get it right.
Too close, way too close to turn back now.
The final sprint. That’s where we’re at. The final sprint.
Hey Mark, how did you manage the end of the House of Leaves project? When did you know that you were close, and more so when you were done?
What does it take an author to produce?
And sometimes, doesn’t it feel like you need permission to do so? It’s not always as simple as sitting down behind the keyboard. You could have what you feel is an amazing idea but the moment you are ready to write, nothing comes out. You compare yourself to others, you begin to think that your amazing concept is already done.
So there’s slowdown.
And eventually, you might consider scrapping the entire thing.
Doubt instead of desire.
The feeling we know all too well.
What is that story of yours worth?
What is it worth to you to keep fighting until the end?
Nobody is going to urge you to to finish that novel. Eventually they all lose interest. You do this for the sake of the story. You do this because there are still moments so exhilarating that it’s the sort of addictive rush that you strive to once again feel. Hold onto it.
I’m feeling it now.
I won’t feel it in the next ten minutes.
By the time this book is done, I will feel nothing. I’ll look back and doubt every single word of it. But it’s done. It will be done. And when it’s with the publisher, it will be scrutinized every step of the way, edits and more edits, until anything I might have cared to notice of the book is hidden behind an outdated mental image of what I had envisioned in the moments after finally hitting “save.” And “close” document.
The irony here is that when it goes well, writing is euphoric, a true drug. When it goes bad, you just want to blow your brains out. You feel subhuman, defeated.
You come up with excuses.
I’m a slow writer.
I’m doing more research.
I don’t write every day.
I write when inspiration hits.
The list goes on. We’re almost as creative at procrastination as we are at the craft of creative writing. Yet even if we aren’t writing, we are thinking about writing. When we’re writing, we’re distantly worried about the shape of things to come. It’s forever looking into the void, much like Navidson did during those final moments traversing in the house.
But I’ll tell you—you’re not alone in feeling guilty.
Even when you write well, you feel guilty.
If you only put in 500 words when you usually put in 1000, you feel guilty.
You have a quick and rushed writing session due to day-gig responsibilities: you feel guilty. You get sick and can’t even concentrate, much less stay awake, and you will feel guilty. You have a party or social gathering that you can’t miss, and maybe don’t want to miss, and yet you know that you’re behind on the novel, should really be back home at the keyboard typing. You meet someone and you’re falling for that person, spending more and more time away, enjoying their company. The guilt is never greater than when your life takes priority above the work. You go on vacation and end up debating whether or not you should get some writing done. You look around and everyone’s lounging on the beach, at the pool, going on hikes, watching movies, drinking Bloody Marys, having fun. If you decided to write, odds are you are sitting in the hotel room, alone, everyone judging you. Worse, you could be at some coffee shop, away from friends and family while they begin conjuring up assumptions pertaining mostly to the fact that you are miserable and don’t want to be there, don’t want to be around them.
You are, forever, guilty of feeling any of it.
Guilty as charged.
And still we write.