Thursday, June 4, 2009

Done and Doneness

Another week of checking the inbox 50 times a day. I'm beginning to train myself off the blogs and back to the NYT site. Yesterday I scrolled through the book section and read the BEA article. Small steps, right?

I added another five submissions to the seven that were already out. Since they were all on my list, not spontaneous screams in the wilderness, I feel a restful sense of accomplishment. I've gotten three rejections, two extremely timely and the other within the limits posted on the web site.

In re: Madison. Don't get me wrong, I may be temporarily finished with revision but it still needs attention. Because I'm so invested in it, the world, the characters, the direction of the novel, I find that revision is like peeling an onion. The more I revise, the more is revealed. I had a moment when I realized something I wrote six months ago is a great idea that could—without much tweaking—change the entire novel into exactly what I wanted it to be. It's so cool. Since I can't remember what I thought I was saying when I originally wrote it, I don't know if I was trying for this, or if my subconscious snuck one in.

Met with the Yolas on Saturday and they pointed out some motivational issues. Now that's the kind of thing I should have caught before I decided the novel was done! Madison is not complicated structurally, but it does seem like a hydra. Or Whac-a-Mole. Nail one thing down, another pops up. Put like this I don't know if it will ever be done done.

So let's talk about doneness.

Every writing/editing/agenting site rails on about not submitting until a project is done. Although this is very good advice, and not always easy to follow, I struggle with the definition:

Done is what, exactly? Is it two complete drafts and a polish? After the last read, the novel stands? Okay, I know the answer to this question, but it's important to note that done is a relative thing, shifting its definition from day to day. Even a first draft can be a done thing when it demonstrates the scope and depth of an idea. Not a done novel, but certainly a done idea.

Then there are times when everything looks like crap and the concept of a finished product is as alien as fish on the moon.

Finally there's trust. You simply have to get up one morning and decide that the only person you are going to trust with the big stuff is yourself. Am I a good enough writer? Does this novel do what I want? You are the only one who can—or should—answer these questions. Done is when you say it's done.

I can go back and forth about it. Because writers need readers. Too much critiquing from your worthy writing partners can suck the life out of almost anything. If it can be killed, they'll kill it. Maybe someone suggests you have zombies on the first page which is not a bad idea, all books should. Just not YOUR book. Maybe you see the confusion on their little faces and realize you have been writing in Sanskrit this whole time. But a good group will engage at both the idea level and the grammatical level. Hence the notes about Madison and motivation, a kickable offense but not one that's hard to fix.

So, is Madison done? Two drafts, a polish and a read by others would indicate that by most standards it's sort of done. But I still have an uneasy feeling about it, like I left the stove on. Maybe because I did a very (for me) risky thing. I left a lot of questions unanswered. I didn't hang an HEA on it. Not that the characters haven't earned it. Maybe it's the unfinished nature of the world, or the fact that so many people die. I just don't think an HEA is a fair summation of the experience. For me or them. (By the way, I'm not saying the main characters don't get what they want in the end. They do, all of them.)

Still, I don't entirely trust my judgment about the ending. Maybe I will someday. This is where I say Madison is done as far as everyone else is concerned, but not for me. Not yet.

What am I reading? I made it to page 160 of The Sparrow. It's the kind of book where a lot is happening but when I look at the page number, I realize I've barely cracked it. Maybe I'm getting a little crush on Emilio Sandoz. He's real cute. Love is a beautiful thing.

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