In moments when my overweening ego is feeling buffed, I imagine that I’m a good writer.
After today, what I really think is that I’m a dogged writer. If I polish the turd long enough, eventually something shines. It’s really my specialty. Going after a story again and again until finally I figure out how to spin crap into gold. I often don’t know where I’m going with a story, or why a section of it (or the whole thing) doesn’t work. I just keep working at it, and eventually it gets better. Mostly by magic, it seems.
The problem with this technique is that it works pretty well for short stories, and works terribly for novels. I think I’ve been working on my current novel for almost two years, and mostly, I keep having the urge to throw it all away and give up. But no. Because I’m such a dogged sonofabitch, I keep working on it, trying to force it into a form that works. And that’s a problem, I think, because really, whenever I’ve really successfully reworked a short story, its because I threw everything away and started fresh from some angle that had been revealed in all of my earlier crummy attempts– that’s how I did “The Fluted Girl,” “The Calorie Man,” and my latest, “The Gambler.” I went after the coolest part that wasn’t really shining the way it should, the heart of it if you will, and I ripped that heart out and set it into a whole new body. And then the story worked.
With 150,000 words written, its painful to think that almost everything needs to be trashed, so that something more interesting can be created, but I’m starting to have that creeping feeling. Crash and burn. That’s how this whole project is feeling right now. I woke up in the middle of the night with this feeling of panic about the book– all its problems, all the facts that aren’t checked, all the cultural details that are fudged, all the world-building scaffolding that looks like it could collapse at any moment. All the words. Christ there are a lot of words. And I couldn’t go back to sleep for three hours. It’s not like there aren’t decent sections of the book, but its like the whole is less than sum of its parts.