Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ew! The Too-Sweet Smell of Success

I don't mind telling you, I am a member of a secret cabal of feminist and transgender writers, (not all of us are transgender). Some of us--not me (not yet)--have actually had books published.

Yes, we have a secret Facebook page, where I can read their success stories.

And it has occurred to me that I had better write one more blog post complaining about writing my book, before I have any success, because I can tell you from personal experience, nobody is interested in reading about success.

Struggle, and preferably failure, are much more interesting.

In some respects, success is where the story ends.

A few kind souls have asked me about my own work-in-progress. This is my answer.

Yes, it will be three years in January since I started writing it.

I'm not one of those Iowa-Workshop people who actually know how to write a book. I'm figuring it out as I go.

And anyway, who has the patience to read about writing a book? Not me.

I'm an English major. I've read books. I'm an editor; I've edited books. I should be able to this. Right?

A horrible thing happened yesterday. I was working on my fifteenth or sixteenth draft, and I was finding the writing perfectly terrible. So, I looked back to an earlier draft, and what did I find?

I found the writing in last year's draft of that chapter was better than the slip-shod revision work I had done more recently.

So there you have it: It is taking me three years to write this book because I am insane. I am writing the same thing over and over again, with worse and worse results.

I can't tell you how troubled I was by this discovery. Words fail.

We've talked about menopause. The question of my sanity comes up over and over again. This feedback strikes me as definitive. The only question is, what to do about it?

I'm certainly not going to stop editing, if that's what you're thinking. It's not ready. Believe me, it's not!

Here's my process: There's the current draft and the old draft. There's the electronic page, and the printed page. My job is to excise the best of all iterations: cut and paste, review and revise, slash and burn. Print it out. Read it again. Edit. Repeat.

Had I not recently edited two unbelievably difficult projects, I would never have the patience to finish my own. For those earlier projects, I am eternally grateful. It was a fitting purgatory to edit other people's books while at the same time neglecting my own.

Let's admit it, once and for all: Editors hate writers. Don't we? Of course we do. We pretend to love authors, but our job is to find fault with them, and to clean up after their prose. We have to keep the authors on schedule. We have to say everything nicely, we can't hurt their feelings, their delicate egos.

How is that supposed to elicit tender feelings?

I am editing myself, and believe me, if I hadn't just crawled through the proverbial jungle on my belly for other people, editing myself would fill me with such profound self-loathing that I would never finish this project and would want to indulge in self-destructive behavior.

Total editing time for this recent draft: 11,877 minutes. What is that? A million hours? That's not counting the first and second drafts.

Total number of words in the document: 69,389. They have to be the right words and they have to be in the right place.

People write books. I know it's true. It's amazing, isn't it?

I was about to conclude that the secret to getting a book written was simply to keep coming back to it, over and over, consistently and doggedly, until it's finished.

Now, I think it is possible to spend six or eight hours a day writing and editing, writing and editing, writing and editing, and never get the manuscript finished or better or longer....

Isn't that a horrifying thought. What kind of personal hell is that?  What kind of life is that to lead?

I hope I'm not doing that. To be honest, IF this manuscript is not finished to my satisfaction by the end of 2016, then yes, I am locked into a literary hamster wheel, and I do require rescue. I just want to put that out there.

The next post about this book will be either, "Yay! I can't believe the day has finally come that my book is being published, and I'm being interviewed by Trevor Noah on The Daily Show!"

Or, it will be much more interesting.

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