Wednesday Wonders: When to Call the Book Done

Standard

IMG_56803333

The other day my son said, “You know you’ve got a LOT of books on writing on your bookshelf. Have you read all of those?”

Mostly, I told him. (He wasn’t particularly impressed — just astounded that I could stay focused for that long on reading books about putting words on paper.)

And he doesn’t even know about the courses I’ve taken and the blogs I’ve read.

Writing takes a lot of reading.

And, of course, it takes a lot of writing words.

In my online reading, Randy Ingermanson once explained to me that the average writer puts over a million words down before she or he becomes a published author.

The million words could be several different books or it could be the same book rewritten over and over again.

I don’t know how many words I’ve written. It’s hard to keep track.

My very first novel is at the back of my file drawer where it will stay. I think I drafted 50,000 words or so. My second short historical fiction set on Whidbey Island is now around 30,000 words. Here is where it gets tough to track, though. It was 50,000 then I cut it down to 40,000. Then I added some. Then I cut it to the bone at 20,000. I added again to 32,000.

I have a third historical fiction set in Tacoma with a word count around that size, too, including the cuts and additions and whatnots.

Those are the larger pieces that are easier to keep track of. I’ve written scads of shorter pieces, some published, many more not, and some even on this blog. I’ve grown fond of mathematics but not fond enough to actually add up all the single words I’ve written to see if I’ve gotten to a million words. I know publishing isn’t anything like that straight forward anyway.

(You wrote the millionth word! Now you are published! Not exactly.)

P1270121

I declared my my second short novel finished last week. Over the last five years I drafted and revised, took classes with it, had my critique group read and re-read it through and then section by section. I’ve had beta readers take a look at it and acted on all of the feedback I’ve received in one way or another.

I’m ready to stop cutting and adding. I’m ready to turn my attention to other things and let the million words add up on some other project.

At first I decided to consign it to the bottom of a drawer, tucked into a file next to the first one about the fairies and the the other worlds full of trees and magic.

Then I read this by Priscilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor, one of the those books my son saw on the shelf:

“Work never sent out is very likely never completed. The author never has to stand by it, for better or for worse. It is never exposed to a stranger’s eye. It is never received with love, hate, indifference, or with interest. It has no audience, no public. As a result, the writer is never obliged to see it through a reader’s eye.”

Well, then.

I guess I’ll send those several thousand words out, roll with rejections, and get down word counts in revising my third novel.

I suppose I knew that all along from my music and drawing. Unless I share what I am doing, the art wilts in a corner. More often than not, I never make it at all if I know no one will ever see it.

May you know the joy of calling things finished even if that means you have to take a risk to get there-

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 6.57.01 AM

 

The Awful Lovely Difference Between Dreams and Reality

Standard

file5301306557262

When I was about 12 I longed for a silk jacket like the ones on the movie Grease. In my dreams, it was pink with white stitching on the back and made me look like a Pink Lady.

I remember waiting a long time for my parents to buy it for me, but it probably wasn’t that long. It was probably only a few months until my birthday.

When I got it, I loved it just like I’d imagined. And then I rode my bicycle with the jacket wrapped around my waist, letting it trail down next to the spokes. The jacket I longed for caught in the circling wheels and was never quite the same after that. My vision of the lovely silk now had black grease marks.

Most everything I’ve ever wanted didn’t turn out as I expected. In some ways my dreams turn out worse in reality and, in other ways, better than I ever could have imagined.

For some time now I’ve been dreaming of getting paid for a piece of writing.

My vision of getting the ‘we will pay you’ mail looked like a quiet moment by myself with a neatly arranged kitchen and no family anywhere around. Don’t ask me why. I guess I just wanted the peace to enjoy the moment. In my vision, I would clutch the papers to my chest and the papers would say something like: “Your writing is fabulous. We love you.”

And then I would close my eyes and send a prayer of thanks.

Reality looked something like this:

I picked up the mail before unstrapping my 2 year old from his car seat and helping him into the house while lugging my purse, a bag full of my lunch leftovers, and Quinton’s sleeping blanket.

My husband was already home. In the pile of mail, I saw the manila envelope from the magazine Alive Now, and wondered if it was another rejection. I had sent a short poem titled ‘The Source’ to the publisher several months ago.

Before I could open it, I got in the house and everything was in a state of pandemonium. My 13 year old needed me to sign a form for his school. My 2 year old entered whine mode and was doing laps around my legs for some reason while my husband was chattering on about our plans for the evening. I told my family they needed to give me a second.

“I’m having a moment,” I said.

Which worked for the 13 year old and husband, so then I only had to think around the 2 year old’s noisy lap running. I opened the manila envelope and skimmed the letter to find the congratulations and the dollar amount.

And then it all got better than my lonely clutching the papers to my chest scene. My family gave me hugs and high fives and shared my joy.

Later I struggled with filling out the contract and tax papers that I had never visualized.

But, in spite of scary tax forms and household pandemonium, I like to visualize my dreams. I often get what I have been dreaming of, and I do believe that visualizing helps this happen. Something powerful and magic pulls me toward what I focus on.

This magic does not mean that what I get looks exactly what I’ve envisioned. Most of the time it doesn’t. Most of the time it’s messy and irritating in ways I never imagined and also deeply satisfying in ways that never occurred to me. So while I am careful what I wish for, I keep right on wishing. And not too carefully, either. I’ve learned that unexpected surprises make for good times. Every so often the unexpected looks like a pink jacket in spokes, but most of the time it looks like high fives and hugs.