Surrendering the Baby

by Pari Noskin Taichert

There’s this quote I want to use, but I can’t find it . . . something like, "Authors never finish their books. They abandon them."

Ever the optimist, I wanted to write about that moment when a novelist knows her or his book is finished. I have this Pollyanna image of that blessed instant. It’s euphoric. Angels blow their celestial horns. A shaft of golden sunlight cleaves the clouds and lights the author in the warm knowledge of a job well done.

But the truth is, usually, when I finally submit a manuscript, I’m bone-tired and slump-shouldered. I relinquish the work to the editor with the enthusiasm of an insomniac mother thrusting her heavy bundle of dirty-diapered baby into an unhelpful father’s hands.

No euphoria here. No relief.

For the first day after, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to be done. The plot needs fixing. The writing needs to be snappier. What about all the typos?

Oh, hell.

For those of you who don’t know the saga of my struggle with the new book, here it is in a nutshell:
I wrote the first draft of THE SOCORRO BLAST last year. It was impossible to edit. I threw it away and wrote an entirely new draft. Then I edited that; sent it to my agent the first time; did another hard edit; sent it to my agent again and edited it again. By this time, it actually began to be a decent story. Then I hired Deni Dietz to edit it–that’s the first time I’ve ever used a freelance editor btw–and she came up with some suggestions and corrections. Then I cleaned it up again, made changes, did this and that.

Last Friday, I submitted it to the University of New Mexico Press.

This is the first and, I hope, last time I fight so hard with my fiction.

While trawling for that elusive quote above, I stumbled on others that spoke to me. These amplified my mindset just moments after handing off the manuscript.

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. — Thomas Mann
No kidding. We get so critical of our own work we become creatively constipated.

Substitute "damn" every time you’re inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. — Mark Twain
This is very, um, damn sage advice. For me, it’s getting rid of my em-dashes. Just ask Deni.

With sixty staring me in the face, I have developed inflammation of the sentence structure and a definite hardening of the paragraphs. — James Thurber
Of course, I could have taken longer with this book. I could have tried to delete many more of those pesky sentences that start with "I." I <g> could have done yet another sweep for adverbs.

My hope is that UNMP will buy SOCORRO and that I’ll have another chance to clean it up . . . . under deadline.

It is easy to finish things. Nothing is simpler. Never does one lie so cleverly as then. — Toulouse Lautrec
This goes directly to how I felt when I gave the manuscript up, even though I think it’s my best book so far.

I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others. — Moliere
If Moliere had these problems, what hope is there for the rest of us? Tony Hillerman often talks about all those pages between the beginning and the end and how much trouble they give him.

Yep. I can empathize.

Homer: "Marge, is this a happy ending or a sad ending?"
Marge: "It’s an ending. That’s enough." — The Simpsons

That’s what I came to, too. I had to give this book up. Objectively it’s a good, strong work.

I need to move on.

29 thoughts on “Surrendering the Baby

  1. Alex Sokoloff

    Oh, Pari. I feel your pain. Mann said it all, right there.

    I hate these writers who dance around the town on a cloud after they finish a book. I’ve NEVER had that euphoria (unless I actually GO dancing, but then it’s endorphins, not the finishing of the book part).

    I’m turning in this week, too, and all I feel is anxious and overwhelmed. I ALWAYS feel that way when I turn something in. Maybe there are just some of us who won’t let ourselves be euphoric. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t great and finished (enough) – it just means we’re a different personality type.

    Go dancing anyway, and I will try to do the same. There’s something to be said for pure endorphins.

    And you know what? CONGRATULATIONS. You’re a rock star.

    Reply
  2. Pari

    Actually, I’m pretty happy when I finished the first draft. Then, I realize all the work ahead.

    But, here’s consolation: Yesterday, I was positively giddy. At first I attributed it to a beautiful day, then I realized it was born out of the relief of not having that manuscript weighing so heavily on me.

    While searching for that quote, I found another one by, I think, James Dickey:”Being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life.”

    For some of us, the surrendering of our manuscript merely inspires us to start studying for finals.

    Reply
  3. Pari

    Argh. The first line of that last post should read “I’m pretty happy when I finish (no -ed) . . . “

    What can I say, it’s only 8:30 am here.

    Reply
  4. Sandra Ruttan

    There are only about ten minutes of bliss in writing, when it’s perfect. The ten minutes from when you tell yourself it’s finished and package it up and ship it off.

    Then reality sets in.

    At least, that’s been my experience. Sometimes, you can over-analyze it and tweak it to death. I’m due to hand my last round of changes back to my editor this week (this isn’t supposed to be rewrite, but just typo corrections etc before ARCs are printed) and my husband is lecturing me to stop obsessing. Easier said than done! This is what the reviewers will get, so although there’s one more kick at the correction can, it has to be good…right?

    I’m not sure if I feel better or worse right now. Maybe slightly better for knowing we all go through this and this isn’t just the newbie initiation.

    Except that means I’ll go through this again. Damn.

    Reply
  5. Pari

    Sorry about that, Sandra. Yep, you’ll go through it again.

    I’ve described being published as a roller coaster ride. Yeah, I know that’s not original — but it’s apt.

    One thing that saves me from total neurosis (at least I think it does) is that I celebrate small victories. That way, the entire experience is punctuated with joy.

    Reply
  6. Ron Estrada

    I have friends who put these little WIP-meters on their blogs to let the world know how far along they are in their current novels. I keep asking them “how do you know?” Fifty-percent of a rough draft is something like one percent of being finished. I guess you have to stop editing eventually and start submitting.

    Reply
  7. Pari

    Oh, Ron, I can’t imagine doing that. A WIP meter? Sheesh. It’d be true fiction to believe it for a minute.

    BTW: I liked the Top 10 list about the to-do list on your blog. It amused me because I could relate.

    Reply
  8. Elaine

    Pari! Your post couldn’t have arrived at a better time – I’m on the last chapter of my new book, and I’m already feeling giddy.A welcome feeling that somewhat eases the pain caused by Dylan Schaffer’s egregious assault upon my character.

    And to Alex & Sandra: Know that ye do not walk alone-and better the angst than to not have a publisher waiting for the puppy, huh? A grin here.

    Reply
  9. Pari

    Actually, now that I think about it, having some doubts shows signs of healthy humility. Without doubt, we run the risk of arrogance and that threatens to render our prose sloppy.

    Reply
  10. Sarah Stewart Taylor

    Great post Pari — When I turn in a book, I have that ten minutes of relief before the doubts set in and then . . . I start to clean. I am not a particularly good housekeeper, but for some reason the urge to scrub the house always strikes me when I finish a book.

    Congrats on getting the book in!

    Reply
  11. Pari

    Sarah,Great to hear from you!

    Yeah, right, cleaning. I’ve been looking at my office today and thinking that I need to get it ready to produce two books in the next three months. Right . . .

    What are you working on right now?

    Reply
  12. Beatrice Brooks

    Euphoria, schmoophoria! I’m not happy, giddy, or anything else, until my free-lance editor has been through (okay, slashed through and nitpicked) my completed manuscript.

    I’ve run my own editing service – Stray Cat Productions – for 15+ years. I’m a perfectionist, an excellent editor, one of the best in the business. I turn down way more clients than I accept. I even work free-lance for a major publisher. But I can’t free-lance-edit me. ‘Tis impossible. And, oh, how I envy those authors who can.

    My uninhibited euphoria sets in after I proof my sold, edited manuscript. That happened [to me] a couple of weeks ago. My editor made three corrections in 112,000 words. Not too shabby. Now, my ms will go to a copy-editor and I’ll have one last kick at the cat [galleys] before publication…not that I would ever kick a cat (hee!)

    The thing is, Pari, there’s a huge gap between submitting/contracting one’s book and the first proofing/revisions. And to be perfectly honest [and perfectly immodest], I had forgotten how fantastic my book was.

    The same thing will happen with “Socorro.” Because it’s truly a fantastic book.

    I love scotch (with whipped cream) but don’t drink it when “finished-book giddiness” occurs. Instead, I buy a new pair of jeans.

    Except for the time I bought a personalized license plate that said ADVANCE. That way, when writers asked me if I bought my car with my advance, I could say, “No, the license plate.”

    And here’s my favorite quote, ever. “Funny had better be sad somewhere.” Jerry Lewis.

    Hugs,Deni[Denise Dietz]

    Reply
  13. G. T. Karber

    I love the Simpson quote. My favorite one about writing is “I’m astounded by people who take eighteen years to write something. That’s how long it took that guy to write Madame Bovary, and was that ever on the best-seller list.” Who is that one by? Sylvester Stallone.

    And for the record, Madame Bovary was a best-seller.

    But it still probably took too long to write.

    Reply
  14. Virginia Green

    Hi Pari,

    CONGRATS on turning The Socorro Blast and best of luck with UNMP. Savor the feeling of knowing it’s your strongest work yet. That has to make the next book easier.

    I’ve learned so much in the rewrites of my first MS that I’m anticipating a much smoother ride with the second (no, don’t disabuse me just yet). Rewrites nearly done, and on track now for submission to agents in the fall. I expect the euphoria will come when I get the first published copy in the hand.

    Reply
  15. Pari

    Hey Deni,I think you’re right about the final proofs when the manuscript has been laid out and is in its actual typeface. I do feel giddy then.

    G.T. (aka Greg),I love that Stallone quote. Eighteen years? Holy cow. Flaubert was such a perfectionist . . . and he had to write by hand. Sheesh. We’ve gotten to be so lazy with our computers. No?

    Virginia,What’s the status of book #1?Congrats on #2.Um, “a smoother ride” with #2, uh . . . well, yeah . . . sure . . . of course it’ll be . . . easier . . . no, I really mean it.

    Reply
  16. Starley

    Hi Pari,

    Best wishes for Socorro, and thanks for the good insider info today. I like being prepared. Note to self: Expect no euphoria. Oddly enough, I’m happy to learn I won’t be happy.

    And Virginia was referring only to our first manuscript which is nearing the end of another rewrite. Our second is still on the horizon.

    Cheers,

    Starley

    Reply
  17. Iden Ford

    UNM press, that is cool. Great title too. Collectors like their books. Anyway, more photos please! heh heh. Oh I’ll take tons of photos of you at Magna for this blog. That will be a blast. Pari running accross the parking lot with a swishy background. Pari at the film event with the director Michael DeCarlo. Pari in the gym in the morning with the personal trainer, they have three pieces of equipment in the hotel gym and I use them all. Pari in the bar later on. Pari by the piano in the hotel. See, I am planning you photo shoot already!!!

    Reply
  18. Robert Gregory Browne

    Maybe I’m strange, but when I finished my first book I knew I was finished, was glad I was finished, was ready to move on. Forever.

    Then when I sold it I had to revisit it,even though I was sick of the damn thingm and have had to revisit it again for copy editing, galley proofs and jeez, man, I’m finished with it — okay? You got me? Huh? I’m done. It’s over. I don’t ever want to SEE it again.

    …Sorry. I get a little carried away sometimes.

    Ask me how I feel when it’s sitting in bookstores.

    Reply
  19. Iden Ford

    I’d love to do a guest blog, as long as Elaine is my editor. Hey how bout a guest blog live from Bouchercon replete with photos. That would be very much fun for me. Let me know and I will plan my angle. Ooh that is a most exciting notion.

    Reply
  20. Pari

    Wow. Too much happened whilst I slept. Of course, that’s usually the story anyway.

    Iden, if you can get a good photo of me, I’ll buy you a very nice drink . . . or seven.

    Robert,Yes, you are strange (heh heh). I’ll be interested to hear your reaction when that book is in the stores. I confess to a certain amount of euphoria at that point in my own career AND it’s been the same for both books.

    Iden (Naomi and Elaine, too),Hell yes! Live from BCon? Live from Magna? That sounds wonderful, mahvelous, fantastic.How do we make it happen?

    Reply
  21. Elaine

    Iden-I’m flattered, but you do NOT need an editor! You’re a hell of a lot more articulate than moi.

    Alas and alack – I won’t be at Bcon this year to get in on all the fun or witness those fab photos Iden will be taking of Pari. But I’ll be there in spirit (at the bar of course) so hoist one for me, okay?

    Reply
  22. Pari

    Elaine and Sarah,I won’t be at BCon this year either. But, Iden and I have a rendezvous at Magna.

    Sarah, please hoist some kind of drink in our absence.

    Reply
  23. Iden Ford

    Let me know about B’con guest blog. I try to take photos often of what you don’t normally see. Go for the unkown or different. Anyway two blogs of photos, but re Magna, I will photo Pari, she can write the copy. B’con, let me know who to forward my posts and photos to and what size you want them. Gives me a real kinda reporter for Murderati on the scene. I just want to make sure the other members of the blog are okay with it. Need a consensus as I know Pari now, Elaine, and JT, but have not made the acquaintence either in writing or in person of the other members of Murderati, although I must have met Denise Deitz at some point. Anyway, touch base with me on this. Thanks. And by the way, given that my wife is an author, I embrace you Murderati’s in the same way, well almost. So I treat fellow authors with enormous respect. I had fun on the Deadly Pleasures site, but my tone is very different when I posted there as they are all wonderful folks, but on the other side of the fence in that they are reviewers and critics. Since I am not a published author, I took liberties that I felt I could with my critiques of their critiques. Too bad George is shutting it down but he sent me a nice letter letting me know that my participation was important for the site over the past few years. Given that I have been very hard on some of his comments and some of the reviewers, I was quite touched by that. I defend authors period because I can. And love authors, they are the smartest and most inginative people in the world.

    Reply

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