I’m between books at the moment, and I wouldn’t wish it on Kim Jong-Il.

Yesterday I finished the (presumably) final editing pass on The Fourth Watcher. The copy edit and galley review are still hovering spectres in the future, but those are mainly mechanical exercises, rather than creative. The world I was inventing in The Fourth Watcher has moved into the past tense now, and I haven’t begun the next one.

This is the demon’s thanksgiving. This is the time when every single doubt I’ve ever had about my talent and even my basic competence comes out to play. They make regular appearances while I’m writing, but usually one at a time. Now I’m enduring the ghouls’ choir. They’ve obviously been preparing, because they’ve learned to sing four-part harmony to support one single sentence. That sentence is:

You’ll never be able to write another one.

It’s not as though I don’t have ideas. I have plenty of ideas. It’s not as though this anxiety is anything new; this will be the thirteenth novel I’ve written. And I’m actually aware — somewhere deep inside — that I am, at the very least, competent.

But that’s deep inside. What’s on the surface, up here where I live, is the absolute conviction that I’m not competent. That everything I’ve ever written that was any good was dumb luck; that the people who publish (and have published) my work have bad taste; that everything I’ve done was accomplished with smoke and mirrors, and a talent so thin it’s practically transparent.

And that’s on a good day. On a bad one, I think about getting a job with the post office. My anxiety is so profound that I’m taking a class in Chinese, in part not to have to think about writing.

At this point, all I can do is hope that after I finally muscle my way into a new book — by sheer will power — the magic will happen again. The world I’m writing about will begin to move, to take on colors and smells. The characters will stop being people I’m making up and become people I have to put up with.

In other words, inspiration will strike. And then it will strike again. But that probably won’t happen until I’m actively exploring the new world (whatever it proves to be) of that unwritten book. Picasso said it best, I think: “I believe inspiration exists. But it has to find you working.”

I should probably get to work.

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