“…I’d rather be in Philadelphia!”

fields2jpeg.jpgOh, I hear you, W.C.

For the last few weeks I have been grinding away on final edits of So Dark the Night and it has not been fun. Rewarding, yes; mentally stimulating, undoubtedly. Fun? Not a chance.

I responded to a post on another blog this morning by opining that maybe the computer wasn’t the besttypewritrjpeg.jpg invention for obsessive compulsive perfectionists like yours truly. In the bad old days of typewriters, if you made a mistake or needed to slice out a paragraph, you had to type the entire fucking page all over again. Which either made you do it right the first time or decide that it was “good enough”.

Alas, those two words are not in my vocabulary. There is no such thing as “good enough” and now, thanks to the cut and paste functions, the ease of editing with computers, my work may never be “good enough”. That’s a terrifying thought.

I’ve been banging away on So Dark the Night for over three years now. I’ve gone through the “final” editing process before and always seem to get drawn back for one last run-through. Imposing a deadline for myself this time around has really helped. This book will be loaded onto my blog the end of March, even if it kills me. It’s like the last rounds of Ali-Frazier’s “Thrilla in Manila”: both fighters battered, Frazier nearly sightless but neither giving up or backing down. Telling their corners not to stop the fight, no matter what.

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This book has nearly destroyed me…and redeemed and strengthened me in the process. When virtually every singlenewmanjpeg.jpg editor and agent either refused to look at it or turned it down after a cursory glance (or, like Jessica Wade at Ace Books, simply refused to respond to my queries after telling me how much she liked the first excerpt I sent her), I was traumatized. Doubted my talent, my courage, my Creator…but now, a la “Fast Eddie” Felson at the conclusion of “Color of Money”, I’m back. Oh, baby, am I ever.

Working with confidence and vision, seeing the novel in more dimensions and depth than I ever have before. I’ve finished edits on the first half of the book and today I begin Part II. I’ve divided So Dark into 20 page chunks and I pound away on each one like a heavy bag until I’m satisfied I’ve knocked the fucking stuffing out of it…and then I move on to the next segment.

fawltyjpeg.jpgThe intensive editing has led to some, ah, interesting, side effects. Most notably, dreams; incredibly vivid ones. To the extent that when I stop work around 9:00 each night I have to deprogram myself, ease out of my fictional world, watch an old “Fawlty Towers” or original “Star Trek” episode with Sherron and have a giggle. My two sons are good sources of distraction too–funny, smart, interesting buggers. Their thought processes never cease to fascinate me. Their February break is coming up and during the timetarntulajpeg.jpg off I’m hoping a couple of old films I’ve ordered off the internet (“Conquest of Space” and “Tarantula”) will arrive and we can sit down, as a family, for a midnight-double-bill-creature- feature. I love sharing old flicks with them, chortling at the hokeyness and marveling at the absence of CGI, the wires showing and none of us giving a shit.

Sorry, have to make this post short. If I don’t make my daily page count, I can’t sleep at night. Insistent, nagging voices keeping me awake, telling me what a lazy, shiftless bastard I am.

Make sure you come back the end of March and see the end result of all this crazy-making work. So Dark the Night will be the leanest, tightest 470-page novel you’re likely to come across. That’s a promise–and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I always keep my promises.

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10 comments

  1. tanaudel

    I understand what you mean about the computer! It is always an interesting exercise for me to write longhand and then type the second draft. I’m aware of doing a lot more of the mental work early on – for good or ill – and I feel like I learn more (which is very important at the stage I’m at now).

  2. (S)wine

    I used to think the computer was the enemy; now…not so much–at least for writing fiction. It’s also pretty handy when it comes to researching useless junk (or not). Originally I wrote longhand and transcribed using an IBM Selectric, then a Brother typewriter which actually had a 10-letter delay on it, so you could edit if the mistake was made within that space (10 letters). My first computer was a PowerMac 1600. I ended up switching to a Windows-based machine, and finally…FINALLY this spring (when my tax refund comes back), I will go back to a Mac (Macbook). The thing that has helped me the most has been writing almost daily on my site. It’s made me think in short bursts, make quick decision, and streamline the junk quickly. My idea of starting a blog was basically to use as a sketchpad for longer stories and/or novels. It’s really really helped me think fast; I equate it to punk music–my writing. Always done on the go, or in strange venues or public transit.

  3. Emily

    Found you through Litlove. I think that it is very easy to get caught in always needing to be better. FOr me, big writing projects are always suddenly good enough when I get pregnant, perhaps because that is a deadline I cannot change! I am going to need to find a new inspiration, however, because I can’t keep having kids.

  4. 1979semifinalist

    Wow. 470 pages. That is really impressive Cliff, congratulations. I’ll be sure to check back.

    As for a work ever being finished…this is a myth don’t you think? I think as writers/artists we will always look at our work with a maybe too critical eye and see what could have been better or different. What we would add, subtract, revise, if given a new shot at it. It’s one of the reasons I hate the scare tactics of agents and publishers “make your work perfect before you send it in” they all say something to this effect – I know they’re trying to scare away people who don’t bother to edit or spell check and I’m sure things like that make their jobs difficult, but people who don’t bother to spell check and edit are not the people that read and listen to guidelines, it’s people like me that it has an adverse effect on, people who edit and edit and edit and refine and refine and refine. I know it will never be “perfect” so part of me never wants to submit it. I’ve been getting over it and forcing myself to submit, but man is it against my nature.

    As for the typewriter, I romanticize the idea of an old fashioned typewriter all the time , but man do I really not have the time for that. I would lose so much precious creation time I think if I had to deal with typewriters instead of computers.

    Anyway, good luck with your editing, I’ll check back in March, anxiously.

  5. 1979semifinalist

    I also agree with (S)wine – the blogging has been effective in reminding me that it’s best to just get content up and out…blogs cannot possibly be perfect as I’d never get anything posted, so it’s been a nice lesson in accepting what can be done well but quickly and living with the result.

  6. blakejohnson

    It’s cool how when you write you just begin to see new aspects of it, isn’t it? For me, mostly, it used to be that I’d write poetry I just liked the sound of, and people would tell me I was genius for thinking that way, for writing such deep or complicated stuff. I never really saw it that way but it got some admirers, and that’s usually fun.

    That’s also pretty awesome that you can sit down with the family and watch some old campy movies, I’d love to be able to do that with my family. I don’t really think they’d appreciate it quite the way you guys seem to.

    By the way, I’m in Vancouver now. I moved up Sunday, and now I’m here, getting to know the city a little bit more each day, and setting up my life for the year or more I’ve got ahead of me. So far… the place is wonderful. I wrote a short story last night that’s up on the blog. It was about 4 pages long, give it a read if you get the chance, I’d love to hear some feedback on it. I think it’s seriously lacking in character development, but it was just a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, not something I want to get too into… too obsessive compulsive about, as you mentioned ;). Good luck on the novel, glad to hear it’s going well…ish so far, heh.

  7. clearlii

    What the word processor does for writers, the internet and multimedia do for journalists. Before news was posted online, the story was done once the paper was printed. Now, if the facts change, or your fourth callback finally comes, the story can go through multiple revisions in the course of a day. I suppose it makes journalism more reflective of the real world, but it can cause tumult and confusion in the archives of history that newspapers have become. Perhaps it has had the same effect on contemporary fiction – more realistic, yet a scrambled version of the way it first emerged from the mind?

  8. Ken Kennedy

    Sounds great, Cliff. I’m a new feed subscriber, pointed over to you by Peter Watts, and I look forward to So Dark the Night. I’m a big believer in CC-licensed works; I first read Peter in that fashion, and now I own every Watts book I can get my hands on. So great idea, IMO!

  9. utopia901

    Your epic tale of a novel in progress really makes one think twice about the arduous task of novel writing! As a fellow habitual editor/revisor, I can’t even imagine trying to polish as much as a novel. Even an email (or comment such as this) will undergo a harsh inspection.

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