Years ago, following the 2001 World Science Fiction Convention, I was delayed at the Philadelphia airport. I spent thirty minutes or so trolling the shops, and then, with six hours yet to go, I bought a notebook and started scribbling down the story that would become “Hunger: A Confession.” By the time I landed in my then hometown of Knoxville, TN, I had a complete draft in hand—a personal record.
I wouldn’t claim that it’s the best story I’ve ever written—I’m not sure a writer is ever in a position to make such a judgment about his own work. But it was an interesting experiment in writing fast. I’m usually laboriously slow—the kind of writer who must perfect (to the best of my limited ability) each sentence as he goes along. Which is probably why I’m lucky if I manage two stories a year. And we won’t even talk about novels. (I think my vita speaks for itself on that score.)
But writing fast is something I’ve been forced to do upon occasion, usually when a deadline is hurtling down upon me. “The End of the World as We Know It” was written straight through in a single twenty-four-hour sitting; “The Crevasse”—a collaboration with my friend Nathan Ballingrud—was composed even more quickly.
None of this is particularly interesting to someone who doesn’t write, I suppose—who cares how long it takes to write the story; it’s the quality of the final product that matters. But from a writer’s perspective it does raise an interesting issue: why do some stories seem to come so quickly while others resist every effort to move them along at something more than the proverbial snail’s pace? If I could solve that problem I’d eliminate the source of much personal discontent.
Deadlines certainly play a role. Both “End of the World” and “The Crevasse,” among others, were written with deadlines looming. Yet as “Hunger” attests, there seems to be more to it; sometimes I suppose you just get a clearer channel to the muse (for lack of a better term). All I know is that life would be a lot easier—for me and for those unfortunate enough to be around me when the words come slowly (or not at all)—if the static cleared a little more often.
In any case, “Hunger” has had a much longer life than its hasty composition warranted. It got picked up for two year’s best anthologies in 2004, and just now Ellen Datlow has been kind enough to reprint it again, in Hauntings, from Tachyon Publications. Pick it up—if not for “Hunger” than for the heady company it finds itself fortunate to be among. You’ll find stories there by Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates, Kelly Link, and Lucius Shepard among many others. And the cover art—by Valentina Brostean—is alone worth the price of admission.
I still haven’t figured out the secret of hasty composition though. I guess there’s nothing else to do but try.