Writing and Mortality

headstoneLast week a friend congratulated me on publishing my second book. He then asked me how many more books I had in me. Off the top of my head, I said fifty. He was surprised by such a big number, and I countered, “It mostly depends on how long I have to live.”

Ideas for books are actually pretty easy. At least, they are for me. Maybe they’re hard for you, or maybe they’re simply flying right past you without you noticing them. I don’t know, but I’m not worried about running out of ideas. Right now I have ideas for twenty books simmering on the back burner, and that’s not including the twenty-two book ideas I discarded before I actually managed to finish my first novel. I see no reason to believe that I’ve exhausted my pool of ideas. More than likely, some of those twenty simmering novels will never be written because there will be even better books to be found in the hundred ideas that will follow them.

But my point is not that ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s just to say that, for me at least, they won’t be the upper limit on how many books I write. Instead, it’s going to be how many years are left in my life. Barring Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, I should be able to keep writing up to my final months. It’s hard work, to be sure, but it’s not physically taxing work. When I’m shopping for my third set of knees and an artificial pancreas, I should still be able to pull a keyboard onto my lap and pound out another tale or two.

IainBanksSo, how many years do I have left? While I can’t put a number on it, I can tell you this: it won’t be enough. Iain Banks died a few days ago. He was 59. Octavia Butler died at age 58. I’m 45. Maybe I’ll be lucky and hang on into my 90’s like Arthur C. Clarke, but whatever the final number is, it will be finite.

Given that the ideas seem much less exhaustible, I can state with confidence that I will die with books unwritten. I suppose that’s true of almost all writers. I feel sad for those for whom it’s not. I would hate to come to the end and feel I had nothing left to say. I suspect that, more than anything, would be enough to hasten the end for me. Sure, I suppose I’ll grieve the number of books unwritten, orphaned by my demise, but if I’m lucky, I’ll have written more than I leave unwritten.

So I’m writing, from now until then. Yes, I’m doing other things as well, but I hope to never again lose sight of the writing. Right now I’m trying to write and publish two to three books a year. If I have another twenty to thirty years left to me, then I could get to fifty books fairly easily. If I’ve got another forty years, then heck, I might even reach a hundred books.

But fifty would be good… especially if I go out working on the fifty-first.