There’s a point that you reach in the process of writing a piece of fiction where you don’t know what to do anymore. You don’t know what to add or to take away, or even if what you’re looking at specifically makes sense in the broader context of the piece. It’s not a lack of ability or a lack of knowledge or understanding… it’s that you’ve spent months elbow deep in the thing, and all you can see is the gore, and you’ve lost the sense and structure of the thing. I reached that point tonight.
It’s not that we don’t understand story structure, or can’t see instances of passive voice… it’s just that it is utterly impossible to read a piece as a reader would when you’ve just written it. It just can’t be done.
It’s at that point, when you’ve become lost in that peculiar writer’s myopia, that you need to put the work away. For a week or two. Or a month. Of course, this resting time could be considered idle time, and that’s not necessarily bad… when one is engaging in creative activity, even idle time contributes to the whole. But why wouldn’t you use that week or two or four to have it read over by people who don’t suffer from that myopia?
Tonight, I handed my novel to a handful of intrepid readers who have agreed to read the damn thing for me. The feeling of shuffling an almost-novel from my desktop to my pre-readers is not a feeling of happiness or even of satisfaction. It is a feeling of deflation and relief. This is the first time that I’ve given something to readers that I intended to publish at some point, and while it’s a relief to get the thing out of my hands for the time being, it’s also nerve-wracking.
These people, these kind volunteers, have the responsibility of telling me, honestly and truthfully, whether or not this thing has good bones, whether or not it’s worth pursuing. I can’t tell… I read through it a couple of days ago and thought it might actually be good… and that was a moment that brought trumpeters down from heaven. But I read it one and a half times today, and I’m suddenly feeling like it’s probably not so good. Which feeling is right? I can’t tell… can you?
In addition, they’re also responsible for telling me which of the curves need refining and which of the points need sharpening, a thing I might be capable of in the future, but which I’m not capable of right now, and I have to decide whether to take or leave each piece of feedback, without involving my pride. Do you see how complicated this gets?
But that feedback doesn’t even come right away! It can take weeks for someone to make a reasonably attentive pass over a novel-length piece of writing, and I get to spend all of that time with this story and all of this anxiety peppering me in the back of the brain, like background radiation, even when I sleep.
And that’s not even getting to the worries of publishing, which I will need to do eventually if it turns out that the bones are good. Publishing is still a subject that mystifies and terrifies me, but it’s one of those things that I’ll have to learn by doing.
It’s pretty amazing to think about how many people it really takes to write a book. I guess that’s what dedications are for… because they can only fit one name on the cover.
In the meantime, now that I’m free of the damn thing for a while, it’s time to try to get caught up on my housework, and get my ducks in a row for Bhutan… which I can’t believe is happening in just six short weeks.
And you know, maybe write a short story.
If I find the time.