Friday, August 7, 2009

Deadline Diva

Forgive my scarce blogging lately. I’m in marathon mode, nose-to-the-grindstone working on revisions on my fourth novel. They’re due September 1. When I look at a calendar, my heart races.

I received my editorial letter the same week I got possession of my new house! I spent about a week painting walls and tilling garden beds while I mulled my editor’s suggestions, and since then I’ve gotten back to my writing routine. I’ve been putting in nine and ten hour days of working, declining invitations to lunch and to the pool. A friend recently dubbed me “the deadline diva.”

This stage of revisions can be grueling. I’m NOT complaining—I love it, but it requires close and constant work to make any progress. This stage requires much rereading of the entire book. Each change I make has a ripple effect through every page.

Several writing quotes come to mind. Recently Stephen J. Dubner wrote in an article:
"A book is like a child who never naps, never goes to camp, always needs care and feeding, and whose presence gnaws on you if you dare neglect it."
So true! At this stage, no matter where I go or who I'm with, the novel is continually tugging on my elbow for attention.

But I also agree with Annie Dillard in her amazing book The Writing Life:
“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”
I can relate to the feeling that the book has many disorders, and I can relate to that daily hope that it will get better. This kind of immersion always leads to doubts. It reminds me of the sensation when you write a simple word—like "house"—and the more you look at it, the more it seems wrong. If you keep staring at the word, it stops making sense. In the same way, a manuscript will suddenly seem to have no point. I’ll labor over a passage and think, “Oh, my God. Who the hell is going to care?” Every single passage, image, or line of dialogue starts to look odd and seem meaningless.

But I don't agree with Dillard’s dread. Even in the self doubt, I LOVE what I do. I wake up before my alarm, eager to get to the desk, coffee in hand, cat in my lap.

I did take two unusual days off this past weekend and was horrified to find that with only two days without handling, the novel had gone totally feral! Many friends sent advice: “Shoot it,” “No, talk soothingly,” and “Set out a bowl of adverbs but don’t make eye contact.” I was happy to report to them, that by the end of Monday I had managed to humanely the trap the book yet again. By Tuesday it was caged, still snarling a bit, but no longer trying to bite. This morning—Friday—it was again taking deletions and additions from my hand. Whew.

That proved to me that at this stage of the process, breaking the routine at all is a mistake. I’ll keep plodding along until I turn the hefty stack of pages to some trusted readers. Until then, I shall remain the deadline diva!