Monday, January 13, 2014

So, you’ve written a book…

What does it mean to have written a book?

That’s the question I’m asking myself now, a week after finishing the first draft manuscript of my first novel.  I’m wondering what is it that I’ve done.

I’m supposed to feel really good, and I did, for nearly the entire day.

But that euphoria didn’t last, and coming down was like a caffeine crash.  It was, in fact, a caffeine crash, because immediately after finishing the book I swore off coffee and the like, at least for a month.  By the next day I was in a completely explicable funk, tired and cranky.  I was mentally exhausted, having written the last six chapters in the last two weeks of the year.  Around, under, over and through the holidays.  When I complained of this to Elizabeth, she told me I was just tired and needed to rest. 

But I knew there was more to it than that.  I had a new question to answer, and no suspects.

What does it mean to have written a book?

For the next week, I did no writing at all, and stayed away from the computer as much as possible.  I felt lost.  Withdrawal symptoms.  Following Stephen King’s advice, I decided to put aside the manuscript for a month, use the time to gain some distance and some clarity.  I started thinking about the next book, and also about the future role and function of thunderstrokes.  But the question loomed over me the entire time, still hangs over me, and so now I’m trying to sort it out, the only way I seem to be able to sort things out anymore, in writing. 

What does it mean to have written a book?

Where do you even start to answer that question?  Elizabeth tells me it’s a great accomplishment.  But in my mind, the answer comes back quick:  it’s only a first draft of a manuscript.  One massive revision is needed just to make coherent and readable enough to critique, and then at least another to make it publishable.  And that’s only if I perform magnificently.  From where I stand, it doesn’t feel like a book yet.

The sober, rational side of me looks at how I’ve spent my time and wonders what the hell I was ever thinking.  Two-and-a-half years spent finding my voice, finding a way forward, and then dreaming up this crazy story about a kid who has to go to a strange land and accomplish the Twelve Labors of Hercules, and then turning that dream into a rickety reality, held together, it mostly seems, with equal parts duct tape and pixie dust. Two-and-a-half years of lost income and retirement savings, of trying to dress up a dream in work-clothes, of feeling like a bystander while Elizabeth bears the entire financial load for our family, of struggling with fears and doubts and uncertainties about myself as a writer in an endless procession of constantly changing mutations, each one as ferocious and as deadly as any monster Hercules ever faced, or will. 

I know that sounds dramatic, but I believe it.  The harshest battles most of us will ever face is with ourselves.  Our inner monsters cannot be seen, and for that we should be grateful.  I sincerely believe that if they were given a tangible form, they would fill us with such terror and paralyzing fear it would put Hollywood’s horror-meisters and their paltry creations to shame.

So that, at least, is something. I have learned that I can live with the doubts and uncertainties, and find my way through.