Just the other day I finished what was supposed to be the final draft of Pawn Takes Knight, the hotly awaited sequel to The Vengeance Season. After cogitating on what I had wrought and conferring with my First Reader, I decided this would be a good time to write a post on dealing with disappointment.
I’m an Astros fan. And when I say “fan” I mean that I watch over 120 games a season. I DVR the ones I can’t watch live and I try to make it to Houston for at least two games a year. All this for a team that sucks worse than the Cubs.
This post isn’t going to be about baseball, I’m just declaring my bona fides for talking about disappointment the way a guy who writes a weight loss book shows you his before and after pictures.
Writing is a solitary undertaking. That’s good and bad. For instance, when a shortstop muffs an easy double play, millions of people watch him do it. And then millions more ask him about it when he goes out for dinner or drops by a talk show. And if he has the bad luck to do it during the World Series, as Bill Buckner did, it dogs him the rest of his life.
A writer, on the other hand, has the luxury of failing in private. A bad draft just becomes fodder for the next, hopefully better, draft.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that writers are just as enfeebled by the desire for applause as actors or baseball players. In our minds, we rip the last sheet of paper from the typewriter (because we all secretly live in the 1930s when writers were actually respected) and toss it into the air where it explodes into confetti as our family and friends and especially total strangers come rushing in to congratulate us.
It’s hard. Writing is hard. Writing a novel takes a long time and there are many points at which you’re unsure you’ll make it to the end. Very often, you don’t make it to the end. Finishing is in itself a sort of triumph. And that sense of triumph is what compels so many writers to pack that less than acceptable manuscript off to an editor or agent the moment the ink dries.
Yeah, sure, it’s not great, there were parts you wanted to handle more deftly, but you got the point across. The rape scene is probably too graphic and the revenge killing is too underwritten but, hey, there are worse novelists making big money on the New York Times best seller list.
Wrong. There is no writer worse than the one who sends out a manuscript that is not up to his own idea of what quality is. Yes, there are writers who slap stuff together and still manage to inhabit the NYTBSL like so many tapeworms but they are doing the best they possibly can. It’s not that bad writing is popular. It’s just that the stuff these guys cough out in a pool of bloody mucus is actually their hard won best effort.
The truth is that it’s not bad writing that gets you booted out of the literary saloon. It’s lack of conviction. Readers can smell it on every page. I’ve done it. I won’t mention the writer, but I clearly remember thinking he was hacking his way through the second half of a novel while I was trying to finish it. That book remains unread to this day and that writer is off my purchase list.
So… that brings us to Pawn Takes Knight. I put everything into the story that I wanted to put into it. All the elements are in place and all the pieces that are supposed to fit with future and past stories from Roy’s life are inlayed there with the precision of German engineering. But it’s still not right.
When I finished the 198th* draft of The Vengeance Season, I realized I had finally put together a story. It had characters, it had plot, it had style. It was the novel that opened the way for everything else I’ve written since. But it was also the novel (in its first 197 instances) that taught me what fake sounds like.
I hurried my way through Pawn Takes Knight because people were telling me they wanted to know what happens next. That’s a valid concern and a valid reason to try to appease them. It’s just not a valid reason to deliver a substandard product.
Roy Doyle’s adventures will take a short hiatus while I work on something else (marketing Arc of Destruction and writing the second draft of a YA novel just brimming with monsters and teen angst) until I can gather my wits and take another run at the story. I’m not worried. I got most of it on this try – there’s a good chance I could have gotten away with releasing this one – but Roy is my centerpiece. He deserves better than that.
In the meantime, I’m now world famous. My books are now being purchased on Amazon UK, Germany, Spain, France, and India. Who’s missing from this list? I’m looking at you Italy.