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?
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.