Avi: Bags of Cement

ph_CementBagsFor rea­sons both bor­ing and com­plex, I cur­rent­ly find myself under oblig­a­tion to deliv­er four nov­els before the next twelve months are out. Two are writ­ten, but under­go­ing revi­sions. A third has start­ed. The fourth has noth­ing on paper; only in my mind. Is it an acci­dent that my shoul­ders have been aching, as if I had been car­ry­ing bags of cement up a ladder? 

When friends hear of this they ask, “How you going to do that?” The answer is, by sit­ting in front of my com­put­er and work­ing from about sev­en AM until sev­en PM. I’ll take Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas off. Joke.

There is some­thing to be said for dead­line writ­ing, espe­cial­ly when you make your liv­ing that way. Yet, I sus­pect the term “dead­line” came about because when you reach the fin­ish­ing line, you are dead. Then again, one of my sons is a jour­nal­ist, and he has dai­ly, some­times hourly dead­lines. I admire that, from a dis­tance. He con­sid­ers my pace “leisure­ly.”

That said, work­ing obses­sive­ly has its own rewards. You do not put up with your own non­sense. Pro­lix­i­ty means more work. Rep­e­ti­tion is to be dread­ed, and cut. Lean, sharp writ­ing flows. Bad writ­ing is a like a wash-board road. You become so immersed in your sto­ry you think about it all the time, which can be very pro­duc­tive. (Wait! What if she does this? Shouldn’t he say that?)

ph_WashboardRoad_smYou can, if you write a lot, move quick­ly on to the next project because you have no choice. You can’t fall in love with your work because you are not engaged in a life-long rela­tion­ship. Hon­est­ly, when I read about the writ­ers who spend ten years (or more) on a nov­el, my heart goes out to them. Ground­hog Day was a fun­ny, clever movie, but I for one would not like to live my writ­ing life that way.

More­over, if you are always writ­ing, it is hard to feel riv­et­ed to the out­come of your just-pub­lished work. Sure, it’s fun to read the reviews (the good ones that is), but by the time that book is being pub­lished, I am so involved in the next book, it is not so very impor­tant. I feel sor­ry for the writer who can­not move on until the full cycle (writ­ing-revi­sion-pub­lish­ing-response) is complete.

And yet … and yet, I have the respon­si­bil­i­ty (to my read­ers, my pub­lish­ers, and myself) to make each book good, as good as I can. This is dif­fi­cult because no book is ever tru­ly done. I can always find ways to make it bet­ter. Not so long ago I picked up a just-pub­lished book (I had worked on it for more than a year) and read the first para­graph. Instant­ly I real­ized I should have added an ele­ment to the plot that would have made it a much bet­ter book. Too late.

Would I rather work on one book at a time, work on it from start to fin­ish, before mov­ing on to the next? Sure. 

But no mat­ter how you do it, writ­ing is rather like car­ry­ing bags of cement up a lad­der. The real prob­lem is — I love doing it.

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Mary Casanova
8 years ago

Avi, I can relate to your post. like to think of it as putting up bales of hay. Stren­u­ous, demand­ing, and sat­is­fy­ing work!