Pop quiz, hotshot. I’m supposed to be doing my homework, but you find me upstairs reading a Playdude. What do you do? What do you do?” – Bart Simpson
“I make you read every article in that magazine, including Norman Mailer’s latest claptrap about his waning libido.” – Shary Bobbins
I have a pretty simple way of deciding when I've got a real story I need to write and when I've just got an idea I should let lie. A real story has the urgency of a sexual impulse: you're going to do what needs to get done in order to write the story, and nothing's going to get in your way. Think of horny teenagers, and all the obstacles they have in their way to fulfilling their sexual desires: no private room, sometimes no car, curfews, parents checking up on them. They seem to overcome these issues without any great problem, because they want to have sex more than they want to anything.
Now imagine, that your are in your forties and your house is being fumigated. So you, your spouse and your kids are temporarily living in your parents' home. And one or the other comes knocking on your door every 15 minutes. How in the mood would you feel? You're 45. You've got work tomorrow. You going to overcome the obstacles, do what it takes to accomplish the objective? Imagine 16-year-old using these excuses to pass up a night in the same room and the chances to have sex it would afford.
Age just seems to take the urgency out of it. I mean, you can still perform, but it's not the same thing. It can wait while you take care of other things.
That's what writing has started to feel like. It's not that I've become unable to write at all (that never happens to me, baby, I swear!), but the obstacles in the way seem a lot more formidable than they did even just a couple of years ago. If I had a story that came to mind back then, I was agitated until I got a complete rough draft done. Two days later, I'd be touchy to be around until I felt I'd made it look more like a complete draft. I needed to be moving forward. I just don't feel that way now. I've had the same character note sitting on my notepad for a month, and I just wrote a page of a rough draft today.
The book that's coming out has something to do with it. I've been editing and re-editing the same stories, and that's not the most joyous or purely artistic part of the writing process. So many I'm just drained from overwork.
But this lethargy coincides with a physical and mental deterioration I've felt speed up in the last few years. I work out as much as I ever did, but I'm about 10% weaker now than I was at this time two years ago. Mentally, I'm starting to have a very hard time remembering words or people's names that I've known for a long time. Not with every sentence, but with a few sentences a day. I have to re-route the word or name I'm looking for by using associative clues until some synapse in my brain is able to route the thing I'm looking for. None of this is enough to keep me from writing, but it's clear I'm past my prime. I really wish I'd figured out some of the basics earlier in life, when I still had the mental vigor to put it to use.
I wonder how worth it the struggle is to try to keep moving forward developing as a writer when I can feel myself diminishing in so many ways. Some writers extended their writing careers by waxing philosophical about the passing of youth, but they'd already established themselves with more energetic stuff when they were younger. I still need to get my best stuff out, but to do so means keeping up with a more insatiable mistress than I might be capable of.