I do know that, as my hero David Milch says, "Anything you think about writing when you're not writing is bullshit." Every grad-school poet has an elaborate system of aesthetics, or a tradition they're trying to contribute to, or some explanation for their work. They have the answers because they've read Foucault, or Benjamin, or Butler or Zizek or whoever. The actual writing is almost an afterthought.
Writing the kind of novels that I want to write takes faith. There's a great story about James Ellroy, who started writing in his early thirties after getting sober (fucked-up Ellroy stories abound). He's never written anything of substance, and before he takes up his pencil, he prays. The first thing he writes is the first paragraph of his first novel, Brown's Requium:
Business was good. It was the same thing every summer. The smog and heat rolled in, blanketing the basin; people succumbed to torpor and malaise; old resolves died; old commitments went unheeded. And so on.
Kierkegaard thought of faith as a union of ethics and aesthetics. William James saw it as a psychological necessity. What pertains to writers, I think, is the idea that You don't fucking know and you don't have to. It's not about you. It's about the work.
The best quote on writing is from Robert Frost: "You have to start on insufficient knowledge. And you have to have that kind of courage." I transcribed that years ago, typed it out on an index card with my Selectric, posted it on my wall.
There are a million things I could do besides write, and I could think up a million reasons why they are valid and necessary predicates to writing. But writing comes first.
I'm not advocating monastic solitude and monomania. Everyone has other commitments, mine being school and work and friends. But you need discipline and focus to reserve time for writing, so you don't get bogged down in other things and forget to get the work done.
One of the reasons I gave up music was that, in the space of a year, I cut drum tracks for three albums. One guitarist/producer got bogged down in drugs and the unfairness of the world and never finished. Another decided he needed better equipment and rerecorded everything as he bought more shit. A third just sits in his house practicing, day in day out, waiting for the phone to ring.
To me, that's like the pastor in Surrey this week who blamed the recent catastrophe in Haiti on voodoo and paganism. It's also the reason why more and more people become atheists. There is nothing more disgusting than watching someone dress up in the articles of faith and espouse fear. It's nauseating.
The great thing about writing is, once you convince yourself you need to commit, you don't have to convince anyone else until the actual writing is over. That's very liberating. There's no committee to hassle you about grammar, or cuss words, or sex, or anyhing else. The onus is on you to create the standards and then live by them.
The lure of being an artist is great, and we all want to differentiate ourselves, be seen as original, creative, inspired, special. The trick is realizing you're not, and that the work is what matters. The work, not the bullshit associated with it. That takes what Harlan Ellison calls "foot-pounds of energy." And it takes faith.