I made a decision at the beginning of 2012. That decision was: if by my birthday I haven’t made significant progress on my novel, it gets put away. By away, I mean abandoned for now. I mean, I’ll move onto another project, and say goodbye to the project that’s been with me since November of 2007. My birthday is just under six weeks away. I have made some progress, but it’s not what I’d call significant. It’s nearly decision makin’ time.
I wouldn’t be the first writer to abandon a manuscript. Still, this conversation I’m having with myself is super emotional. For all the Occupy, for all the social justice, I’m a writer of fiction first. I’d say I’m these things: A woman, a writer, a writer of fiction, a writer of non fiction, a lover. It looks like this.
There are a lot of upsetting questions around this question of whether or not to let this manuscript go. For starters, I have to wonder whether this decision – despite how rotten it feels to consider – might truly be the smartest option for me at this time. Conversely, it’s entirely possible that I’m just a sucky quitter. A big ole quitting failure. A lousy yellow-bellied not-book-finishing asshole.
It could really go either way.
Another question is, is this whole “I’m a writer” thing just a corner I’ve painted myself into in order to feel like I’m special and different, and like this life has given me some sort of creative pursuit to feel tortured by, just so I won’t have to feel like some administrative office dwelling gray-face, doomed to life long mediocrity and – ugh – ordinariness.
Maybe I’m not really a writer any more than anyone is anything. Maybe I’m doing some kind of mimicry thing. Taking Virginia Woolf and Frida Kahlo and Christine Sajecki and the other people I admire for their commitment to their passion/s and putting their pictures into my own mirror, you know?
On a slightly less existential note…
I’m open to the possibility that this novel was the novel in my life that was never meant to be published at all, but that existed for the purpose of showing me how to – or how not to – write a book. Because I know a whole lot more about book writing now than I used to, that’s for sure. I also have to consider the possibility that this book can become really good. That if I really buck up and dig my heels in and other cowboy-themed cliches too, that I might could make this book into something pretty readable. But then there’s that pesky reality which reminds me I’ve been at it (off and on) for five years, and I haven’t yet gotten there. So, if I hang onto it, will it be another 5 years? Then I will have lost 10 years of my life to one single unfinished lousy stupid stinking project. And maybe if I throw my chips in and cut my losses and other gambling-themed cliches too, then I can open up my creative chakras to some other more worthy and fresh project which might actually have a shot at getting finished before I’m forty. (I’ll be 33. Perspective.)
Then again, what if I do peacefully resign to putting my work in progress away, embark on another new project, and five years down the line I find myself in the exact same place? With yet another unfinished, unworthy manuscript? Which fate is worse?
Here’s something I know. I know I’m a good writer. Here’s something else I know. The book I’ve written so far is not very good. It might not be good yet. Which is to say, it could become good. But after five years, it’s not yet good. Not even close to good enough. So. Where does that leave me? I’m sick of that asshole, my book. It can go fuck itself.
I don’t mean that.
What I mean is, if it comes to this, I hope it’s happy in that proverbial bottom drawer. I hope it gets a nice sleep, and that it feels relieved to be excused from its torture. It’s my sweet, hideous progeny.
… five years of my life.
It’s like a lover with whom I’ve had strange but good sex, but who I don’t really like all that much, and whose social awkwardness makes me want to hide it from public, but I stick around because I’m lonely and the sex is weird/good and it offers me an unhealthy sort of affirmation. That’s hard to let go of. I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ve been in that actual relationship. It was … not at all hard to let go of! What am I talking about?
That analogy might have helped.
If I decide to keep at it, there’s quite a bit of work ahead of me. I’m tempted, in a way, to begin anew. To use the same characters, the same basic plotline, and start from scratch. But when I think of that – stripping all the literary meat off its scrawny carcass – I get a literal stab of pain in my stomach. How do you erase a complicated universe full of love and longing and heartbreak, no matter how irrelevant that universe may be?
Stephen King said, “…writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub,” and Michael Chabon said, “A book itself threatens to kill its author repeatedly during its composition.” He wrote that he could feel it “erasing me, breaking me down, burying me alive, drowning me, kicking me down the stairs.” This is absolutely how I feel. I don’t want to have to hide from it. This inanimate but sentient thing is kicking my ass, and if laying it to rest means I’m taking the power back in this relationship, then it may very well be the best thing.