Sometimes I think WIPs have their own agendas, even a kind of life, that is independent of my priorities and ideas about what I should be working on. At the moment, Camp Expendable is waiting for me to stop dawdling and get it formatted, converted, and published. I had planned to get it out of my hair by the middle of the month, and that’s tomorrow. But I haven’t touched it for over a week, so that’s clearly not going to happen.
What shoved it out of the way? The story that is least likely to find readers, but has its grip on my mind and won’t let go. No matter what else I’m working on, Bentham’s Dream shoves its way to the front and demands that I get on with it. Who’s going to want to read a novella (which is what it’s turning into, from a short story) that takes place in a mysterious prison where the most horrific criminals are condemned to a life in solitary confinement. Even worse, there are only two protagonists, who spend all their time talking — about the problems and ethics of maintaining such a prison. Very exciting stuff.
It’s that kind of obsessiveness, willingness to let the stories dictate to the writer rather than the other way around, that separates some of us from the mainstream. We not only don’t write to market, we can’t write to market. We are internally inspired, driven, and motivated, whereas most writers seem to be externally driven and motivated. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re always going to write books without any chance of success in the marketplace. It does mean that we will put every bit of our creativity, and months or years of effort into book that we know very well will remain obscure and unloved.
Money is always welcome. Even a little bit of fame would be nice. But we’re willing to sacrifice all that for something that has meaning for us, even if that meaning may sometimes be obscure. It’s like a quest with an uncertain outcome, something you have to do whether or not it makes sense to anyone else.