Sunday, December 18, 2011

On the Bus

Taz Lynx, an old and wise lynx who has seen a lot
"Are you grading papers?"

I looked up to see a young college student sitting perpendicular to me on the bus.  A large, wheeled suitcase was in front of him and a hand-crocheted quilt sat in his lap.  He was clearly heading home for the holidays.

Strewn across my lap were two versions of the first chapter to my manuscript.  One was the version with Agent #4's extensive notes in the margins and my scrawled responses, revisions and placement arrows obliterating much of the white space on the page.  The other was a somewhat cleaner version of the subsequent revised text.  And while fewer scrawling notes and arrows covered those pages, it isn't  hard to tell I'm still not entirely happy with what I've written.

"No," I responded.  "It's my blankety-blankety-blank* manuscript."

"Oh, what are you writing?"

"It's a fantasy, steampunkish kids book set in Victorian London," I said.  Then, giving in to the feeling of having to explain why, as a middle-aged guy, I'm writing a book for kids, I added, "I used to be a children's librarian."  And then, because I really didn't want to talk about my blankety-blankety-blank manuscript I told him the somewhat amusing story of when I decided I was going to become a published author.  (If nothing else, I do try to be entertaining.)

"The thing is," I said, "writing is a heckuva lot harder than it seems.  In fact, I think writing is about 10% writing and 90% editing, revising, re-revising and re-re-revising."

"But you must enjoy it?" he asked, pointing to the piles of printed imagination and effort in my lap.

I sighed.

"I used to," I said.  "I spent six months working with an agent and I really did enjoy revising the story because I knew I was making it better.  Now I'm working with another agent who uncovered such a fundamental flaw in the storytelling that I have to completely rewrite everything."

He raised an eyebrow, wanting the dirt on my story.

"She pointed out that my main character is only my main character for the first few pages," I said, deciding to share my annoyance with my own spectacular lack of craft.  "After I introduce the eccentric, charismatic professor character and the stoic butler, my main character quickly moves into the background.  That's not what a main character is supposed to do."

He nodded.  "Doesn't sound like a quick fix," he said, echoing one of my beta readers and oldest friends who had first pointed this out to me months ago.

"Thanks.  Like I couldn't figure that bit of FAIL out for myself," I thought, not for the twentieth time.

"At this point, I'd really just like it all to be over with," I admitted.

The bus stopped alongside Wolfpack University and he collected his things.  "Well, good luck," he said.


__________________ . . . __________________

The thing is, I've spent the past three or four months wallowing in self-pity about the so-called writing "talent" that went into producing such a majorly flawed story and growing increasingly tired of the tantrums being thrown in my head over the scope of the changes that need to be written into my manuscript.

With my self-imposed deadline of "by the end of the year" to have something presentable, I finally decided to take it in manageable segments: five pages a day.  Surely, I can do five friggin' pages a day, right?  And considering I only have to get the first 50 pages back to Agent #4, that's only ten days of work.  Can't I stop whining long enough to do that one, small thing?

As it turns out, I can.  More or less.  Events conspire to run interference with those five pages (there is this Christmas thing coming up, you know) but I think I finally have a working first chapter that I'm happy with -- as long as I don't think about the opening paragraphs, that is.

So, while I'm not to the point of enjoying the process of making my story even stronger, I am begrudgingly happy with the progress that I've been making.  And while I truly would like this all to be over with, I wholeheartedly acknowledge that this is something that I'm going to have to earn.  And while I may be annoyed with myself and parts of the process, I'm willing to do the work to earn it.

--- Tom


* Yes, I actually said "blankety-blankety-blank" rather than a potentially more colorful choice of words.  I didn't know this guy and I was on a public bus.