There were no rules when it came to writing, he said. Take a close look at the lives of poets and novelists, and what you wound up with was unalloyed chaos, an infinite jumble of exceptions. That was because writing was a disease, Tom continued, what you might call an infection or influenza of the spirit, and therefore it could strike anyone at any time. The young and the old, the strong and the weak, the drunk and the sober, the sane and the insane. Scan the roster of the giants and semigiants, and you would discover writers who embraced every sexual proclivity, every political bent, and every human attribute—from the loftiest idealism to the most insidious corruption. They were criminals and lawyers, spies and doctors, soldiers and spinsters, travellers and shut-ins.
“Joyce wrote three novels,” Tom said. “Balzac wrote ninety. Does it make a difference to us now?”
“Not to me,” I said.
“Kafka wrote his first story in one night. Stendhal wrote The Charterhouse of Parma in forty-nine days. Melville wrote Moby Dick in sixteen months. Flaubert spent five years on Madame Bovary. Musil worked for eighteen years on The Man Without Qualities and died before he could finish. Do we care about any of that now?”
The question didn’t seem to call for a response.