.....not even in writing.
Let me explain.
Around the first of the year, I had a dream. In my dream, my first agented manuscript came back to me — entire passages flashed before my sleeping eyes. Now, that book was beautiful, in many ways. Some of my most evocative writing ever. But while it landed me my first agent (or two…it’s a long story), it did not get published. It was rejected by every editor in New York, over the course of a very long year.
I have never been one to look back. If something doesn't work, I move on — which I did, because during that very long year of submission, rejection, repeat, I wrote another book. (Which experienced the same fate, but that’s another, long, story, too.)
And since then, I’ve written many books, some published, some not, but the point is — I never look back, I never hang on to anything too long, if it’s evident to me that it’s not going to be published, I simply shrug and open up a new Word Document.
(Well, it’s never that simple, actually — usually some crying is involved. And Haagen Daaz chocolate peanut butter ice cream. But truly, I don’t spend too much time wallowing in grief.)
But that dream — the way that book came back to me, completely unbidden (I haven’t thought of it in literally years) — haunted me. And when I woke up the next morning I had a flash of inspiration: If I only rewrote it from the point of view of an older woman, dealing with the empty nest, I would magically fix all the flaws that were so frankly pointed out to me by all those rejecting editors. It would be wonderful, new, and exactly what I needed to write at this moment in time since I, too, am dealing with empty nest issues.
It would also be fairly easy to accomplish. Or so I thought.
Well, friends, let me tell you. Nothing is ever as beautiful as memory recalls.
The book, when I opened up the old Word Document and blew the cobwebs off it, wasn’t quite so ready to go as I remembered. After re-reading it, I realized that there were some serious structural issues. But I still thought that they’d be easy to fix, once I started from the beginning, changing the heroine’s voice and introducing the whole empty nest theme.
But nothing was easy.
I wrestled with that book for 2 ½ weeks straight, every single day, thinking and writing and thinking and writing and talking it all over with my very patient critique partner, totally bugging her with long, rambling emails sent in the middle of the night detailing my latest brainstorm of how I could “fix” it. My brain hurt, actually, from working so hard.
But finally, I gave up. The manuscript defeated me. It simply cannot be fixed.
At least, not right now.
The thing is, when I had that dream I was already about 1/3 into a beautiful new manuscript, and when I stopped to re-read it after my last, agonizing session with the dream manuscript, I realized how much I’ve learned in the last five years. Five years ago I was capable of absolutely breathtaking passages of writing — but I wasn’t capable of structuring a novel, pacing it, knowing that there actually has to be a compelling plot to move the characters to change. When I got deep into the belly of the beast of that earlier novel, I saw that there was nothing on which to hang these beautiful passages of writing — they were just kind of flapping out there, lovely to read, but overall, not giving the reader any reason to keep turning the pages after a point.
And it was just too much to fix, right now. It was not a revision, it was not even a rewrite. It was more of an unwrite. And it was not going to be a quick, painless thing to do, as I’d originally envisioned.
Also? I think that I still can’t write about all the empty nest issues I faced, personally, last fall. While I’m certainly over most of them in my day-to-day life, dealing with them on paper only serves to propel me back there, and — I don’t want to go back. I want to move forward.
I want to move forward — in my life, and in my writing. I don’t want to look back; I don’t want to recapture a feeling, or revive a book that’s from another time in my life. I want to see what lies ahead.
I’m not saying that I’ll never go back to this empty nest idea, or even this book. Maybe I will. But it will have to be at a different time in my life, when I’m more secure about my place in the world, when I’m not so fearful about both the past and the future. Because truly, it’s that fear of what lies ahead — fear based on how happy I’ve been in the past — that makes me determined to get there, and fast, and see in person just how wonderful it can be, too. Different, naturally — but wonderful.
So good-bye, for now, little novel that came to me in a dream. I learned a lot from you, both when I first wrote you, and when I tried to go back and reclaim you. Nothing’s ever wasted; that’s my motto.
But I'm glad I moved forward with my newest manuscript. It's sitting now on my agent's desk, awaiting her input.
I can’t wait to see where it takes me.