I typically find it a bit narcissistic, even off-putting, when writers talk or write about their works-in-progress. I mean, really, who cares? It feels like a cheap and somewhat pathetic ploy to elicit encouragement and positive strokes from friends, relatives, and past readers. And, it’s a lesser version of that most deplorable of social media practices: the “humble-brag,” which is defined as “an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud.” If at all, talk to me about it when it’s actually a thing.
On the other hand, I’m equally surprised to learn that there are people sincerely interested in the existence of said projects and in the process from which they materialize. Therefore, it’s with great ambivalence regarding the value of doing so and with a bit of trepidation as to how its motivations will be interpreted that I’d like to share the behind-the-scenes story of my current novel-in-progress.
I actually finished a draft of this novel something like thirteen years ago. It was the product of only my second attempt at writing a novel. Upon completion, I shared it with two readers for editing suggestions and pitched it around to a few agents. Those were the days before the proliferation of email and when most agents still required hard copies of manuscripts and query letters. That’s why I only pitched it to a “few agents.” I couldn’t afford to waste so much paper and printer ink; it took so long for said agents to return the manuscripts for submission to others; and I had yet to thicken my writer’s skin, and every rejection was soul crushing. As a result, after a couple of encouraging responses but mostly form rejections, I abandoned the project. To my current great dismay and thinking I simply needed to move on, I stupidly lost my only hard copy of the novel. In addition, I hadn’t thought to save it to a flash or external hard drive, and the computer on which I wrote it crapped out. I thought, therefore, I was finished with it forever.
The story itself, however, never quite left my consciousness. It was like a former girlfriend, who, no matter how far I’d moved on from the relationship, I couldn’t quite erase her/it from my mind because, despite the ultimate failure of the experience, there had been a lot of good as well. Over the past thirteen years, even as I’ve proceeded to write something like eight complete drafts of other novels and to publish three, I’ve continued to write that story but only in my head, tweaking it in some places and totally re-imagining it in others.
With Christmas vacation in-progress, providing me with time free from the demands of teaching, and with a new year fast-approaching during which I’ve resolved to “get better” by making more productive use of my time, I’ve rescued that too rashly-spurned and too long-shunned novel from the Island of Misfit Toys with the intention of devoting myself to updating it and making it viable. I’ve begun picking up the shards of salvageable material that lie on the floor of my memory and to sweep up and dispose of forever the pieces that didn’t work the first time and still will not. What little credibility I possess as a reader and writer has never stopped telling me that’s it’s a good story and one worth the telling to others.
As easy as that sounds, it’s actually not that simple. When I am in the creative mode, I become somewhat obsessed. Wait. Can you be “somewhat” obsessed?” I believe “obsessed” to be an absolute. Either you’re obsessed or you’re not. You cannot be “somewhat” obsessed. That’s a small example of the type of exercise my brain puts me through when I’m writing. I struggle to think of or devote myself to much of anything else. One eye and half of my brain is always focused on the story I’m trying to flesh out. The real, flesh-and-blood people in my life are then often relegated to second-class citizenry as I tend to the fictional demands of characters who, for the time being anyway and maybe forever – only exist in my head. I’m not sure that’s appropriate or even sane, but I’m sure it’s not fair. With that said, however, it’s too late. I can’t go back now. I’ve already waded too deeply into the re-write. I’ll just have to see them on the other side.
I never share – not even with my wife – knowledge of the plot of a story I’m working on. Therefore, I’m not going to do so here. I’m just going to quote, somewhat arrogantly, the song “Something’s Coming” from the musical West Side Story in which Tony sings, “Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is / But it is going to be great.”
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