Sunday, June 01, 2014

Dog Years...

I'm pretty sure some novels are written in dog years.

I'm wiped out. I feel kind of like that guy up there, except not as perky. But I am similarly exultant.

A couple days ago I sent off the draft of my latest book to my editor. The draft was…a bit…tardy. Okay, I was late. This has never happened to me before. But every once in a while, you run up against the reality that, although writing books for publication is a job, embedded in a for-profit (we hope) business, creating a novel is still an artistic process, and sometimes you just can't create on demand.

This was a funny realization for me to come to, because I've prided myself on delivering on time, turning in a clean draft, being a pro. But one of the interesting things about being a novelist is that every book is different. You learn how to write the book you're writing by writing it. Some of that knowledge transfers from book to book. Other knowledge is unique to the book you're writing. Nothing you've learned before applies to some particular aspect of the problem set you're trying to solve, so you just fight your way through it until you figure it out. You hope.

That's the scary part about being a writer. It's a constant dance on the cliff's edge of failure. While this is not as consequential as failure in jobs where peoples' lives are at stake, or where a wrong policy decision screws up lives a few generations into the future, it feels really important when you're the person whose creative ass is on the line. When you fail at writing, it feels personal. You're mining so many aspects of your personality and experiences to provide material for your work. And there are times when that process is is the last thing you want to be doing.

But then, there is craft. Craft is the great salvation of writers. Craft allows you to take all the messy, painful, complicated stuff, the material you're working with, and shape it into something separate from yourself. Something apart, and with enough distance that you can look at it more clearly, as an artwork, or as a product, however you prefer to frame it. By either label, it's a creative projection of your will, and the only thing getting in the way of shaping it like you want, having the kind of control to create meaning and order that you don't necessarily have in your own life, is you, the author.

You're the creator of your own success or the cause of your own failure. External circumstances can make the process easier or harder—or sometimes, impossible. But there's no one who can get that book out of you but you.