Saturday, July 30, 2016
The thing about writing is ...
It can be endless.
Back in May 1995, novelist Russell Banks spoke at Western Reserve Academy about his novel-in-progress, Cloudsplitter, 1998, a novel about abolitionist John Brown. I remember one thing he said very clearly--though I don't remember it verbatim. He said he'd done an enormous amount of research and still saw an enormous (endless!) amount ahead of him, and so he just decided one day: That's IT! I've got to start writing--or I never will! And so he did, and the novel appeared a couple of years later.
In a much smaller way, I've had the same feeling a number of times--working with Jack London and Edgar Poe. There's just so much. At what point do you say, Okay, that's enough ... And by saying that, are you booking yourself a voyage on the Sea of Error?
I've had the same problem with my Mary Shelley research. I worked ferociously on her story for a decade (beginning in 1997)--read, traveled, corresponded, wrote ... I couldn't find a publisher right away (I didn't try all that hard), so I set it aside, then decided to publish it myself on Kindle Direct and did so in 2012 (a decision prompted by advancing years and declining health).
Then ... I decided I'd write a memoir about my ten-year pursuit of Mary Shelley, and it was then I waded into (as I should have expected) the flood of research that's occurred since I put that book aside.
Here's a tiny "for instance": I'm at the point in the memoir when Mary Shelley made contact with Frances Wright (1827). I'd done a lot of work on Wright (I thought) back in the day, but then, recently, I found I'd somehow missed a very significant book--Wright's View of Society and Manners in America (originally published in 1821, six years before she corresponded with and met Mary). How could I possibly have missed this book?
So ... I ordered it recently (there's a 1963 edition from the Harvard University Press), and it came today.
And now I know what I'll be doing before I write much more about Wright's relationship with Shelley.
Sigh. And I feel, once again, that devilish mixture of disappointment in myself and great excitement about this new, unknown tributary of the River Shelley that I'm going to get to explore.