Last month I realized that I started work on this-godforsaken-book-I’m-writing (TGBIW, for short) in 1997. And no, that’s not a typo. I’ve been at this thing, in some form, for one year shy of a decade.
It began as a single short story that slowly mutated into two mortifying pieces, one fiction, one non-. While those were germinating, I tried to write a novel about something else. But I kept returning to the character at the center of the 1997 story. Finally, three years ago, I gave up on the first book and resigned myself to this one.
The early stories are only a small piece of what’s turning out to be a long manuscript. The perspective is different — more distant — now. And Dear Sweet Jesus in Heaven, I hope the writing is better. But I’ve stopped worrying about when I’ll finish.
Lately — I know this is pretentious, and I’m sorry — I’m focusing on what Flannery O’Connor called “the habit of art.” Line by line, day by day, a piece of writing may suck, but if you put in real time, it does get incrementally better.
Jean Rhys attributed the organic perfection of Wide Sargasso Sea to endless, painstaking changes at the sentence level. And while I know I’ll never be a Rhys, I seem to have passed into that phase writers always talk about, and that always sounds like bullshit: writing for its own sake — even if the words never quite capture what I want to express — and trying not to think about any of the things that may or may not happen when I’m done.
When I’m particularly disgusted by TGBIW, I like to look at the weekly deal summary from Publisher’s Lunch.
Sometimes my brain falls asleep before I finish reading the message, but the inaninity of titles bought by publishers each week never fails to astound — and to affirm my decision to write whatever the hell I want to. What’s the point in writing to satisfy the whims of an industry that would inflict “Travis Bradberry, PhD.’s The Personality Code: Maximize Your Strengths, Read People, and Unlock Your Full Potential” (or This Book Will Change Your Life Again! or reams of boilerplate chick lit) on an unsuspecting world?