The Great American Novel

I blame grad school.

Or maybe it was the 90s. The 90s, as a decade, could be the source. They at least contributed.

Why does everything I write have to be important?

Let’s be honest: it’s not. The book I wrote about my grandparents is certainly important to my family, but I doubt even the few hundred people who read it ever think about it. It didn’t change any lives.

I am fascinated by writers who have solid careers doing what they love by regularly releasing books that don’t have a ton of depth. There’s an entire world of romance and fantasy books out there that seem to fill a void that comic books once maintained: disposable entertainment. The books aren’t meant to change the world, they’re simply meant to entertain, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s actually pretty great.

So why can’t I write any of those?

Why am I the kind of writer who agonizes over every line? I have short stories that I’ve edited at least a dozen times. Better is the enemy of good, which is usually a positive, but not if there’s never an end in sight.

This is why I find short stories so infuriating, although I suppose they’re simply a concentrated dose of my overall neurosis. Space is limited, so every word must matter. Every. Word. Must. MATTER. And by “matter” I mean have deep, resonance. Otherwise what’s the point?

Which is exactly the point. Not everything has to be life altering. It can just be enjoyable.

What’s particularly perplexing about my inability to just write for enjoyment (for both me and others) is that these days I almost exclusively consume stories that have no deeper truth, no stunning insight into the human condition. I mean, maybe they do, but I’m certainly not digging to find it. I’m enjoying the surface. That’s all I want, at least on a day to day basis.

What I read has always influenced what I write, just as what I listen to has always influenced what I play on my guitar. Yet I’m unable to take that step towards being able to write something that’s just enjoyable. A good story can just be a good story, but apparently that’s not enough for me.

It does beg that age old question (and by age I mean like 15 years): Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music? In other words, am I trying to write something deep because I feel like I have something deep to say? Or do I feel like I have something deep to say only because I keep trying to write something deep? What if I don’t really have anything to say after all?

When do I stop with this nonsense?

Because, to be honest (and this is taking a whiskey induced turn), I’m kind of tired of this tortured artist act. I’m tired of the alcohol and the writing and rewriting and editing and rewriting and editing and rewriting and writing and editing and for fuck’s sake just finish a fucking story and be done with it. It is killing me, perhaps quite literally, if I were to ever get my liver examined. Lord knows it cannot be good for my mental state.

I want to be able to write for the fun of it and for that to be enough. I want to be able to write sober, to write during the day, to not feel like anything I write under those aforementioned circumstances is less than what I write in the opposite of those aforementioned circumstances.

So please tell me how I can do that.

And if I can’t, please tell me who to blame.