A novelist friend writes:
Have you ever considered writing fiction? I’m editing a collection of original stories and I was on the highway today when it occurred to me…what if Terry wanted to write a short story?
So I’m throwing the idea out there. Feel free to throw it back at me with “ARE YOU CRAZY?” But if you want to do it, I want you to do it.
Alas, dear friend, you are crazy. Not that I wouldn’t like to write you a short story, but I have on more than one occasion dug deep within myself in search of the stuff of fiction and found…nothing. I’ve gone so far as to start two or three novels, invariably petering out after the first few chapters. I did manage three years ago to write a full-length play, but once the first hot flush of enthusiasm and vanity wore off, I realized that it simply wasn’t good enough, and scrapped it.
I’ve always wondered what was missing from my psyche that might have made it possible for me to write fiction. Anthony Powell, if I remember correctly, once claimed that the reason why Cyril Connolly, a very gifted essayist and parodist, was unable to write good fiction (his lone novel, The Rock Pool, was a clever disaster) was that he was insufficiently interested in the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of other people. This may be one of those explanations that sounds good but doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny–or possibly not. Though I always thought I was interested in other people, it’s also true that I’m not the world’s best noticer. No sooner does a friend tell me that she’s in trouble than I’m all solicitude and consideration, but often I’m too lost in my own thoughts to spot the fast-growing pool of blood at her feet.
Whatever the reason, I’ve reached the age of forty-eight without once successfully completing a work of fiction (or unsuccessfully, for that matter), and though it’s not unheard of for incautious writers to unexpectedly extrude a novel in the middle of life, I doubt it’ll happen to me. I regret it bitterly, just as I regret never having learned to speak another language, but by now I’m reasonably content to stick to the cards in my hand and do my best to play them as well as I know how.
“In middle age,” Evelyn Waugh told a correspondent in 1960, “a writer knows his capacities & limitations and he has a general conspectus of his future work….A writer should have found his métier before he is 50.” I seem to have found mine. My self-designed business card describes me as CRITIC, BIOGRAPHER, BLOGGER. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.