I’ve written from time to time about something I call writer’s high—that marvelous feeling a writer gets when things are flowing. And I’ve written a little bit about the times when they aren’t, and in particular about blaming our lack of productivity on not finding the time to write.
Now, if I were you, I might be thinking that it’s pretty easy for old Kaze to ruminate on this stuff, yammering on in the kinds of companionable generalities that some of his less rigorously demanding readers might find diverting, if not entirely comforting. You know what? Maybe you’ve got something there. So today, I’m letting Walker Percy—that great melancholy soul—do the talking, first because he’s infinitely more qualified and credible than I’ll ever be, and second because he manages in this particular excerpt from his letters (this one written to Shelby Foote) to cover so much fascinating territory in so short a span.
Percy had been struggling with a novel:
If I should try to tell you anything about it, it would be a lie and wouldn’t sound like what it is, since what it is, is in the telling as you know well. I think what’s got me down is that the novel is attempting the impossible: to write about the great traditional themes, sin, God, love, death etc., when in fact these themes are no longer with us, we’ve left them, even death, or they’ve left us. I’ve been in a long spell of . . . anomie and aridity in which, unlike the saints who writhe under the assaults of devils, I simply get sleepy and doze off. . . . My Catholicism consists just now and mainly in the deepest kind of hunch that it all works out, generally for the good, and everybody gets their deserts—which is frightening. But, I mean, artistically, there is no sweat. One waits. Not for the Muse, f*ck her, but until one finds a new language, because that’s about what it takes, the language is about dead.
This is all mostly bull. You know what my real sin is? Laziness. Which is to say that if I were broke, had four squalling kids and a deadline, I’d be working my ass off, nicht? That’s how come they call it a mortal sin. My only defense is that I was born lazy.
P.S. Shakespeare had it easy; he had a language, a new language, busting out all around him, and he didn’t even have to make up stories: the stories were around him too. We have to do it all, including the impossible or all but impossible task: make up a language as you go along. All you have to do to be a good novelist now is to be like God on the first day.
Okay, so there’s a first-rate novelist complaining about some of the stuff you don’t have to be a first-rate novelist to complain about. If he were still alive [Walker Percy, 1916-1990], I’d thank him for helping out today.
By the way, turns out that Percy, a year before his death, wrote a fan letter to Bruce Springsteen. You can’t beat that, can you?