Thursday, October 22, 2009

Burning Your Book

Hey all you writers out there...

Have you ever written TOO MUCH? So much, in fact that you know it is a big horrible load of nonsense that has gotten so out of hand, you can't stomach the thought of trying to sort through it to find that nugget of GREAT STORY you thought you were going to write?

I'm not talking fifty pages of going in the wrong direction with your story and then having to backtrack a bit. I'm talking NINE HUNDRED pages of WHAT IN THE HECK KIND OF WICKED DEMON WAS I POSSESSED BY when I typed all this meaningless crap?

Yeah, OK, I can see some of you out there nodding your heads. You know what I'm talking about.

Well, let me tell you what I did the last time I dug out that voluminous tome, that huge gorilla on my back weighing me down as a writer because it was the one thing I couldn't get a handle on.

I flipped through it. I read all the Post-it notes and margin scribbles I'd made, trying to shape that monstrosity into some semblance of a real, readable novel. I mean, I had printed out the whole thing and hole-punched it and put it in two huge piano-hinged D-ring binders. Do you know how much a 900-page manuscript actually weighs? It is a terrible burden on one's shoulders, on one's writing soul.

Finally I slammed the binder cover shut in disgust. Angry with myself because that THING had been hanging over me for ten years - TEN YEARS - I dragged it outside to the trash barrel and just dumped the whole thing inside. Then I went back in the house and got a box of matches. And I burned it.

It took three days of stirring and shuffling the mountain of paper and rekindling the fire to be certain it was all incinerated to an illegible crisp. Because I didn't want one single shred of it left to remind me of the horrendous failure I'd become. I felt awful and depressed the whole time I was doing this ritualistic cleansing.

And then an interesting thing happened.

I felt RELIEVED ... liberated ... because I didn't have to worry any more about that darn manuscript I couldn't fix. It had been one of my first stories that I labored over to make deep and complex with various subplots - to make it a worthy read. What I actually made was a worthy nightmare. To be sure, it was a learning exercise. In the process of building that monstrosity, I was learning how to write. But I hadn't learned well enough to rescue it from the depths of the flaming inferno to which I'd sentenced it.

Now, three years later, I still think about that story. I've even made a couple false starts, trying to rewrite it the way I felt it should have been written in the first place. But I haven't gotten past chapter two.

So maybe it was just one of those stories never meant to be written - at least not by me. I can always say that someday I'll go back to it when I get the time. But who's got the time? And anyway, whenever I think about it, I get an uncomfortably weighty twinge between my shoulders. And who needs that? I'll just leave it in reserve as one of those stories I can always revisit if I ever run out of writing ideas.

My advice to any of you out there facing a similar burden - burn your book and move on to a brighter, better story. You'll be a happier writer for doing it.

Dana Warryck
Crystal Clear: Storm Ryder
Lucifer's Last Lover
The Protectorate: Patriarch

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