Thursday, August 27, 2009

Over and Out

I sent two hard copies of Dust and Steel, along with synopsis, off to my agent on Monday. This means that for the first time in over a decade the book is officially, finally off my desk and, more importantly, out of my head.

Yes, I said “over a decade.” This book, which began at a breakfast counter in Juno, Alaska, and ended on a cluttered desk in St. Paul, MN, has been with me longer than my children (and at times has proven even more unruly). It has endured four moves, numerous jobs, unemployment, the birth of two children, voluntary and involuntary hiatuses, a leaky roof that killed the computer it was on, a pretty serious rapier addiction, and heaven knows how many other distractions. I have told more people that I can remember about the book, so that now the only thing I can remember for certain across all that time is that no one seemed to think I couldn’t do it. That alone is pretty special, and should D&S ever see the light of day, I am going to be kicking myself for not being able to name every person who showed me even an inkling of support over the years.

It is often said that a first novel is a learning experience. This is true. I have learned, for example, that I never want to take ten years to write a book EVER AGAIN. I will buy a gun and single bullet first. There are very few people, real or fictional, I would want to spend that much time with, day after day. I married one of them (real person) and had two as kids (mostly real, but some days I’m not completely sure): but the characters in my book? I think we could agree none of use signed up for this, and I’m sure they were as happy to get out the door and in the mail as I was to see them go. I also learned that while I am still a fairly organic writer (“Plan? We don’t need no steenkin’ plan!”), and that I am a strong enough writer of character and action to pull off the occasional story gaffe with equanimity, I don’t necessarily like to have to do that, let alone go back and fix it in revisions. And speaking of revisions, I learned that trying to revise an organic novel that was written in fits and starts over ten-plus years is a royal (and logistical) pain in the ass. The target is now roughly a year per book (not counting summer vacation, which is a wash for me writing-wise). And yes, this means outlines and “a plan.”

Oh, and I learned some stuff about craft and plot and character and commitment to one’s art and all that, too. :)

I learned that a good writer’s group is worth more than it’s weight in gold, diamonds, uranium, and any other precious commodity you care to name. When it comes down to it, writing is a lonely gig, and even talking to supportive non-writer friends and one’s spouse (sorry, J) isn’t quite the same as spending time with a like-minded group of geeks who hear voices in their heads and put stories on paper and rip their hair out (metaphorically, in Kelly’s case) on a fairly regular basis.

I learned I can write places other than my office. This was very freeing, since I can now adjust my locale based on the mood (and muse) of the day. I also learned that sound-blocking headphones and surf music can be my friend at times. I always knew I could write into the night, but now I know I can get up early to write if I have to, or that I can grab half an hour in the middle of the day if there is no other time.

I learned that commitment can be stronger than inspiration. You need the inspiration to get started, and you need it to keep going, but there are days you can put down perfectly good words when inspiration refuses to come calling. Those days are harder, but if you only do it when it’s easy, you’ll never write THE END.

I also learned that writing THE END isn’t the end of it. I knew this, of course, but there is a difference between knowing something and living it. Lawrence Block refers to revisions as “washing garbage”, in that it is something he neither enjoys nor particularly wants to do. But still he does it. And even after washing my own garbage and boxing it up, I know it still isn’t over. Should D&S sell, it will be back on my desk for editorial revisions, copy edits, and so on. But that will be then, and it will be with a signed contract in hand. And there will be a deadline. One thing I didn’t have to learn is that I am much better under a real deadline (fake or self-imposed ones don’t work on me). College taught me that one.

So, now I sit, itchy fingered, waiting to get back to work on my other book, which is at the half-way point. That will happen in two weeks, once the guys go back to school. So in the meantime, I will catch up on other things, do a little on-line gaming, work on my web site, and lay in bed at night and try not to think about Drothe and Bronze Degan and a plot that is plotted and a book that is done. But I think I will now and then, anyhow. After all, we have a good bit of history behind us.

(This post origianlly appeared on my LiveJournal, and has been forwarded here after an appropriate boot to the head to remind that, ya know, it's about writing and stuff...)

4 comments:

Bill Henry said...

Great post, Doug. Onward!

Mari Adkins said...


Yes, I said “over a decade.”


I have one of those. Am shopping it now.

lydamorehouse said...

I learned that commitment can be stronger than inspiration. You need the inspiration to get started, and you need it to keep going, but there are days you can put down perfectly good words when inspiration refuses to come calling. Those days are harder, but if you only do it when it’s easy, you’ll never write THE END.

Amen, brother!

Shawn Enderlin said...

There are so many good things in here - but i'll focus on the "over a decade." I feel your pain! My adventure started in 1996 and while the story i have today doesn't even remotely resemble what it did then, it's still been "over a decade." there are days when I HATE the thought of looking at some of those chapters and there are days when I am totally psyched to tear into them.

It will be a bittersweet day when I can write a post like yours and say, "I'm done!"

Best of luck to you! :-)