I mean, I really don’t. Okay, listen:
I’ve written a few books now. A handful. But even with my limited output, I’ve learned a thing or two about this writing gig.
There are things you can learn about writing from other people. That’s why every liberal arts college in the known universe offers courses in creative writing. If no one had ever learned anything useful we’d have caught on by now, don’t you think? There are also some very wonderful people on the interwhatzit who are excellent at helping writers think in different ways or offer some extremely practical direction. If you’d like to see a perfect example of this sort of educator, check out Angelique L’Amour’s website, and by all means get on her mailing list. You will not regret it.
But there are some things that you can only learn from doing the deed. I guess you become your own instructor. Or maybe the writing itself is at the podium. Whoever is doing the heavy lifting, it’s been my experience that these are the lessons that are most important to improve in the craft.
So, yes. There have been many excellent lessons learned along this walkabout. But there are lessons that I probably should have learned by now, yet have not.
Case in point, the final edit.
I have not conducted any sort of scientific (or even unscientific) poll to determine what percentage of writers like to edit their manuscripts by hand, and how many do everything on the computer. I have to mark up a printed copy. As I’m reading through the work and I see a typo (or five thousand) or I catch a continuity error or see a place where I can elevate the writing, the ability to immediately scribble on the paper the correction or improvement… or even a suggestion to myself, (“this could be stronger” “clarify” “wasn’t the llama wearing slacks in the last scene?”), means that when I do sit back down to input the changes, they’re already there in aggressive red ink, and I can either type them in verbatim or make further changes on the fly.
The thing is that on the day you start the process you’re faced with this:
Again, I know that it’s not necessarily the biggest stack of paper to ever comprise a manuscript. I’m sure Tolstoy’s desk groaned under the weight of War and Peace.
But for me, that particular stack, being threatened by that particular red pen, means the beginning of turning what’s probably a pretty decent story into what I hope will be a very decent book.
Now, to the one or two of you out there who are actually waiting on me to finish this colossal turd, (I call everything a write a colossal turd at this point in the process), this should come as good news. Because although I have not yet learned that when I first see my printed manuscript waiting for me it will provide a moment of self-doubt and a little bit of panic, maybe some crying and without question the purchase of a modest quantity of beer, I have learned that once I actually get started it’s not so bad.
Unlike some of my peers, for me the act of writing is generally empowering, energizing. On the days it’s a bit of a grind, I come away feeling like a surviving gladiator. On the days it goes very well, I come away feeling almost indestructible. For some reason, on those days I frequently bump my knee as I’m getting up from the desk, and the illusion of immortality fades quickly, but I digress.
The act of editing, while not something I can describe in such glowing terms, (glowering terms maybe…), is not as bad as I always go in thinking it’s going to be. And as I watch the stack diminish in height, I realize I’m growing ever closer to handing it off to the publisher, who will then give it a once-over and send it along to the editor. That’s the happiest time of all. When there’s a book just starting to float around, with my name under the title, and I don’t really have to think about it if I don’t want.
That little vacation ends soon enough because the editor quickly sends the ms back to me, with a healthy dose of items that need my attention, such as “Didn’t the llama have slacks on in the last scene?” But once I make my way through the mark up it’s back to Northern Lake and pretty much out of my hands from that point forward.
But can there be any rest then? Any relief? I was just talking to someone the other day about the fact that when you’re a writer, you’re always on the clock. Even if you’re not at the keyboard, you’re likely jotting down thoughts in a notebook, or thinking on paper in a journal. In fact, when there’s no paper, no computer, no anything, your brain still won’t let you off the hook. Almost every time I walk my dog, for example, I find myself conceiving scenes, changing them, improving the description of the setting, actually hearing dialog.
I mean at some point in the day, a plumber gets to stop fixing toilets. And you, poor stupid writer, end up with situations like this:
One in the can, another chomping at the bit to head there.
I don’t know why I do this to myself.