Thomm Quackenbush, author

Giving Up on Writing

People often ask how long I have been a writer. Without being obnoxious, I don't think there was a time that I wasn't one. When I visited my grandparents, my grandpa's roll top desk was the object of my fixation. When adults wisely kept my germy child fingers from it, I would sit on their stairs and pretend I was doing Serious Writing. As far as I know, I didn't quite know what such writing would entail, only that I wished to do it to the exclusion of other playtime activities.

In first grade, I noticed that my classmates spent a lot of their time spinning easily disproven lies-some involving swimming with sharks during New York winters-and decided a large point of school was crafting and telling the most convincing lies. What else is storytelling than that? Years later-far too many years not to arouse concern for her mental health-one former classmate called me to task for having told her once that I saw the galaxy in my mother's opal ring. (I was colorful from an early age, if not exactly a master of the genre.)

I don't want to discourage the exploration of the young, but my life as writer was made more than chosen. The rest was a matter of becoming good enough to be acknowledged outside the fondness of teachers and relatives. I was not aware on the outset that writing would involve rebuke by unappreciative bosses, who felt I wasted company time with my scrawling, and intrusive thoughts sometimes so insistent that I had to pull my car onto the shoulder and ramble to a voice recorder. Owing to being a writer, I know that the flesh of women makes for better bacon than the flesh of men. I know the exact process of embalming. I know the inside of child molesters heads so that I can better render their mindsets when I steal them for a slithering vampire character. I know how far I will go to write something that the world might want to read.

When I do not write, I feel guilt. The light is dwindling and I shouldn't waste it with leisure. The cusp between the idea and the execution is where magic can be made or lost. Every day I do not write, someone else might be crafting the story that will be read instead of mine. This business forgets you far more quickly than it took down the correct spelling of your name.

If one can help it, I don't think one should write-though I acknowledge that we live in a culture where more people are planning to write a novel than buy and read one. It is only the hopeless cases that should pursue this thankless, punishing discipline because it is not an idle activity. Better writers than me have pointed out that, beyond a certain point, writing isn't something one does, it is something one is. The days where, owing to exhaustion or sickness, I am unable to write and edit to my expected caliber, I feel as though I am dying. When I think about ever being unable to not be able to write as I should long term, I am certain true death would be better than piecemeal erosion. What is my purpose if I cannot write? After these moments of uncertainty, I approach writing tentatively and tenderly, knowing how I will suffer if the words will not instantly come.

Why spend my summers in a library, staring at a flashing cursor in a library, if I am not completely committed to being a writer? I could spend that time at my day job, earning money by dealing with the worst on adolescent boys. I could better support my wife and myself without that nagging pixie of writing demanding my attention.

Every week, I decide I cannot write and, despite a pallet of books gathering dust between panels and signings, that I have never written anything anyone has ever wanted to read. Every month, I think about quitting and just want it would mean to be rid of something that has defined and at times dictated my life. Then, I resume writing because the view from the precipice seems an endless fall.

I cannot enjoy reading as most people do, as I know I used to until I decided writing was less an encouraged hobby than an obsession the lost me friends I mistook for subjects. The problem with dedicating yourself to becoming a chef is that you never again enjoy food. Instead, you only taste the ingredients and judge the cook on how well they are combined.

Maybe I don't quit because of the sunk cost fallacy. I've come so far, worked so hard, and maybe that next book, that next event will finally be the tipping point. Maybe, with a little more effort, another three hundred ignored pages, I will never again feel like an aging fraud in an ocean of perky wunderkinds with the right demographics. Maybe I don't quit because I cannot rid myself of the memory of my child self, crafting yarns from playground games without an editorial thought, without neuroses.

Maybe I don't quit only because I am scared to abandon this crutch my skin has grown around until I lose the sense of where I stop and writing begins. Without the need to scribble seeds and water them into overlooked flowers, what am I?

When I talk about my mood imbalance, so much of it is fixated on my writing. If I am a repressed sort of depressed, a small crack in the fašade spurts forth a torrent of desperate words and can push the wheel of my industry. More than that, I lend my body to character in the throes of their own malaise. It is hard not to let it bleed over. Writing requires long periods of isolation to get the work done, which draws a certain sort of person. Our minds cannot rest, constantly drawing connections around us, cannibalizing our childhood memories in case we have a saleable morsel. I have written on napkins, on fliers, on my arms when I did not have enough paper. I have smeared delicate narratives because I perspired too much trying to justify the twist I wanted but hadn't earned, but it was a small cost to look as though my forehead sought to make up for a decade of Ash Wednesdays.

I will die in the middle of a sentence, knowing that it will never end the way I would have written it.


Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.


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