By Stephen Jay Schwartz

Air and light and time and space

By Charles Bukowski

“-you know, I’ve either had a family, a job, something
has always been in the
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
For the first time in my life I’m going to have a place and the time to

No baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

Baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses

End poem. Start blog.

Oh, my God, but the distractions have become unbearable.

I have the cat crawling up my back, if the cat is credit card debt.

I have the earthquake, bombardment, flood and fire as represented by the imminent foreclosure of my home, underwater by leagues. As great a disaster as any of the above for it involves the dislocation of family, pets and material goods to god-knows-where with god-knows-what money to pay first-last-deposit and no savings from which to pull and no credit on which to borrow.

Oh, my God, but there are distractions.

Pressures and expectations seeping up from the cracked earth beneath my feet, requiring that I play so many parts so very well: stable daytime sales executive, relentlessly focused debut novelist working book two on deadline (nights and weekends, of course), dependable provider for family of four (oh, but the bills are such distractions!), loving, available, husband and father.

I’ve written through pressure before, but the stakes have never been this high.

Now, on command, create.

You have (fill in the blank) hours today to create. Create well. Do not be distracted by the lawsuit behind the curtain. Sit. Focus. Create. Do not be distracted by the flickering of lights and the rattling of pans.

in the world of the story.
That’s all that concerns you.
What is the character thinking? What does he do next?

Do not listen to the strange sound that squeaks from inside your car. It should disappear in time.
Do not listen to the voice of your boss who calls you distracted.
Do not listen to the strange sound that squeaks from inside your chest. It should disappear in time.

You are a writer and you will create.

I used to think that I loved writing and now I’m not sure.
One thing I do know, for sure: I love having written.

27 thoughts on “CRUNCH TIME

  1. Jan Morrison

    hmmm….you wrote my post – in fact you may be having my life. And why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. There are, of course, some differences. I’m a woman and I’ve had some plays produced but my first novel hasn’t been published – come to think of it my first novel will probably never be published but this third one! I got hopes for it.
    We built our home – my guy is a builder but this is the first one he built for himself and me. Designed and built. I love it far too much. I don’t have a cat crawling up my back but I have two step-kids, a dog named Hoagy and six chickens – four hens and two chicks – the roo had to go.
    Yesterday when I was sitting down to steal some time for my novel – I got a call from the woman who is trying to remortgage this place and the rental property up the hill so we can get out of this crushing short term debt. She had tried with the mortgager who holds our property up the hill and we had not informed her that there may be problems – like way too many bounced cheques for them ever to take us seriously. What a total humiliation. I could hear it under her very even clear tones – ARE YOU PEOPLE MORONS? – well yes we are. We are morons because we have tenants ( two sets in a double) and they give us bad cheques and we don’t find out until each one has cascaded into several more. And we are morons because we are both trying to work as hard as we can and live as simply as we can and we are failing. And it is beyond hard to sit down and think about my book when this is going on. So you have my empathy down to my boots and a suggestion. Put money struggles in your plots – real people with real money problems because hardly anyone does. And everyone struggles so why is that?
    I send you waves of equanimity as you proceed!
    Jan from Prospect Bay, Nova Scotia where life is as good as it can be!

  2. Chuck

    Bro, how did you get inside my brain? I woke up with a headache today…did you hit me with some Sevoflurane last night? (Or was it the four Stellas I had…I can’t remember.)

    Either way, you pegged me, and you, and JT, and Pari, and Alex, and…, and …

    Good job.

  3. Shannon

    Yes, but bills come and go, deadlines come and go, life is there and then it’s not. BUT words are forever. They are your children, too, alive because of you, touching others as sure as real little fingers, helping others make it through their down times just like a child’s wicked smile.

    That’s what I tell myself, anyway. 🙂

    Create. The rest will fall into place.

  4. tess gerritsen

    Part of what you’re going through may be "second-book syndrome." You sold the first one, now it’s time to prove you’re not a fluke. That alone is more pressure than many writers can bear, and it magnifies all of life’s other irritations. It’s a tough, tough stage but keep on writing, and you’ll get through it. And yes, at this point in the process, just about everyone starts to think they actually hate writing. It’s normal.

  5. Louise Ure

    Stephen, my heart is breaking. No one should have to face all these trials, and you’re doing it all simultaneously. I don’t know what to suggest except … take some time for yourself, too. Remember that old airline advice: "Put your own mask on first before helping those around you."

  6. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    What a wonderful group of comments to wake up to on a Friday morning.
    Thank you so much guys, for the support and for sharing your experiences. I keep telling myself that a year from now all this will have settled, there will be stasis. One must walk through the fire, however, to come out the other side. So, I’m doing my little fire-walk now. I do consider myself incredibly fortunate to be where I am at this time in my life. And I’m even more fortunate to have such a special, supportive group of fellow writers and friends to turn to throughout the process.

  7. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, honey, you have my heart and prayers for this to end well and soon.

    I won’t tell you to relax because it annoys the hell out of me when someone sends those words my way.

    But let me remind you of something: You’ve come through every single trial you’ve faced before. There’s a solid precedent for success. Why should it be different now?

    Head down. Fingers on key board. Type.
    Head down. Day job at the fore. Work
    Head down. Heart open to love. Be that father, husband and glorious human being you naturally are.

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thaaaaanks, Rob, for being soooo kind and understanding. Will I finally be meeting you at Brett’s launch Saturday night? I’ll look for you, so I know whose toe to step on in the crowd….

  9. JT Ellison

    The bane of the published writer. Time for life and devotion to art. You must carve out little bits of time for yourself in all of this, or your creative spirit will flame out. Have faith. You’re going to be just fine. I promise. Like you said, you’ve got friends to help. That makes you richer in all aspects.

  10. Rob Gregory Browne

    Okay, I can see that my post came across as an a****** who doesn’t care or sympathize.

    Trust me, I do. I’m laughing completely out of sympathy. Your post triggered an immediate response because sometimes you just have to laugh or you’ll start crying.

    You learn very quickly when you’re under deadline and have a million other obligations piling up that the writing life is not what they portray in movies and television. It starts to seem like a job after a while. A GREAT job, yes, but still a job.

    So believe me, while I’m laughing, I completely understand what you’re going through.

    My apologies for sounding like a flippant jerk. Feel free to step on all of my toes. 🙂

  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Rob – don’t worry, I took your first post in the spirit in which it was written – it made me laugh out loud. I did not at all get the impression that you were insincere or flippant. You might, however, be a flibberdigibit. Which is spelled incorrectly, I’m sure, but I’ve always wanted to use the word.

    Pari, Alex, Tess, Rob, JT, Brett, Louise, Dusty, Shannon, Chuck, Jan – you guys have made my day.

    Now I lay me down to type…

  12. JD Rhoades

    Okay, I can see that my post came across as an a****** who doesn’t care or sympathize.

    I’m reminded of the bit by the late great Bill Hicks: "I don’t mean to come across as mean or callous, but I kinda am, so that’s how it comes out."

    Seriously, I think we got the gallows humor.

  13. Tom

    Things will get better, Stephen.

    The trial by fire will end.

    It will all happen sooner and better if you keep writing.

    Good thoughts and best wishes to you.

  14. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    JT – my wife’s all-time favorite as well. We first heard the word in "Joe Versus the Volcano."

  15. Chuck

    Hey S.J.,

    I wanted to offer up an apology too. I wrote my little commiseration this morning–without a trace of sympathy directed at you–before I really had a chance to consider your plight. I’m not yet published, but I think I can appreciate a fraction of the pressure. Currently I have a story on multiple submission (after my last one went down in flames), my wife is due our second child in a month, we just had a house fire last week, I have a company to run, and college football season is fast approaching.

    In all seriousness, JT has told me more than once that it ALL changes when true deadlines enter the picture. Even still, I know you will do what you have to do to create a superb follow up to BOULEVARD. I’m looking forward to reading them both.

    My best,

    Chuck D.

  16. Stephen Blackmoore

    Coming late to the party here.

    We’re all dancing the same credit card two step these days. Rob Peter to pay Paul then mug Paul in a blind alley to pay Peter back before he sends Leather Charlie with the boltcutters to give us a real bad day.

    Distraction on distraction. But it will get better. For all of us. At least that’s what I believe. Because really, what’s the alternative? This is just a blip. Yeah it sucks now, but five years from now we’re going to look back on it and, well, not laugh, maybe. Be glad it’s over I guess.

    Either way, good luck. And know you’re not in this alone. Sure, I can’t throw gobs of cash at anyone, but believe me if I could I would.

    You’re above ground and out of jail. The rest is just details. And on the plus side, times like this really throw the important stuff into sharp relief.

    I’ll see you and Brett Saturday night. Hang in there.

  17. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks Stephen and Chuck – words to live by from you both. Boy, I remember having the kids, Chuck, and all the pressure that was going on with that. I was on dead-line then, too. Thank God that time is past, and my boys are older. You’re right – gotta keep everything in perspective.
    Stephen – look for me at the Mystery Bookstore tomorrow so we can say hello.

  18. Zoe Sharp


    This too will pass.

    As for difficult second book syndrome, it doesn’t ever get any easier. I’ve just been through difficult eighth book syndrome. Sadly, that little flashing cursor in the top left-hand corner of an empty screen still seems to be taunting me.

    But, as Louise so brilliantly put it a week or so back: Take heart, take care, take cover. You’ll make it if you believe you can.

    Good luck!

  19. Helen DeWitt

    Good poem. Poem.

    A while back I read an obituary of Jim Peters, a marathoner who collapsed of heat stroke and dehydration at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, only a few metres from the finish line. On the same day Roger Bannister had beaten Jim Landy in the mile. Time: 3 minutes 58.8 seconds.

    Well, nobody has ever been stupid enough to say that a marathon can be run in 4 minutes. Nobody has ever been stupid enough to say that a marathon can be run as a sequence of 4-minute miles. And nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has been stupid enough to say that a novel can be written in an hour. Poem, yes. Novel, no.

    For reasons that are not clear to me, most people are realistic about athletic skill in a way that they are not about any kind of art. A great sprinter has different strengths from a great marathoner. A great swimmer can’t just decide to take up basketball because the local pool has closed. Different writers have the potential to excel in different forms, at different lengths. A writer whose strength lies in the 4-minute poem will have a better chance of producing good work, given family, bills, upheavals, than a novelist.

    Peter Carey is, to my mind, a greater novelist than Bukowski. Carey had the good luck to get an advertising job that enabled him to do paid work (if I remember this correctly) one week a month. We’d see more good novels if more novelists had that chance. A novelist who decided that there was no such thing as a genuine obstacle, that good work can be done under any and all conditions, wouldn’t be much of a novelist.

    The situation sounds horrible; only thing I’d say is, rage gives energy to a book.

  20. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I’m with you on that, Helen. Great comment. Despite the fact that rage does indeed give energy to a book, I’m really looking forward to seeing what placid, self-awareness has to offer. I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at writing a novel from the relative safety of the local massage table.


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