Another year, another book to burn.

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Last year, I burned one of my own unpublished books to close out the year. It was meant as a way to put the book behind me and move forward. A way to force myself not mope or wallow in self-pity at an accomplishment that revealed itself to be a failure. This year, I’ve decided to do the same, and for much the same reasons. What I didn’t expect was that it was a bit more painful the second time around. No, I didn’t burn myself, and it’s not that it’s exactly hard to burn a bit of paper, after all, it’s just wood-pulp and people have been burning shit like that for a million years or something. Hell, people are so good at burning stuff, we do it accidentally all the time. In any case, as difficult as it was to close out this year’s writing efforts, I expect closing out 2018 will be worse yet, but I’ve got an entire year to fret over it.

The good news for 2017 was that I managed to finish full drafts of two books and write about half of a third. It’s a pretty good showing, considering my first book took over ten years to finish. What I learned with my first book and second books, however, was that once done you have two options, revise/edit/publish or don’t. And to call them options is a little more than generous. In general, most of us get stuck in the revise/edit stage and never make it beyond. A writer could revise a book for their entire whole life and never get it to the point where a publisher will never take it and self-publishing just seems silly. Hell, a ton of authors do just that – churn away to no end. And this is why I’ve started to burn them.

This fall, at the writer’s conference, an author was asked for some general advice for writers, without a breath of hesitation she said, in a South African drawl, “Write the damn book.”  (Yes, it’s a direct quote, she even put that shit on SWAG pens.) Then she elaborated, saying something to the effect that if you’ve been working on a book for longer than a year, put it in a box and shove it under your bed or just burn the damn thing. This is hard advice to swallow when you look at people like JK Rowling who reportedly took 6 years to write Harry Potter, and don’t even get me started on the long awaited books from Rothfuss and Martin, but those folks are a sort of magic writing unicorn the rest of us aren’t. The rest of us have to keep moving and improving and trying new things, if we don’t then we remain stuck in a rut retreading the same old ground for years, burning countless hours of creativity and time on a project that is clearly struggling.

Even though I hadn’t yet heard this advice, that was what I was thinking when I burned Wine Bottles last year. It was very much on my mind this year, as I burned Deep Space Helpdesk … And yes, that was the one I got very positive feedback from an agent on. However, I’ve spent the past month and a half revising the first quarter of the book and I’m still not satisfied. Honestly, I think I’ve lost the thread of the story. The soul went out of it some time ago. I could have burned Dark Queen of Darkness too, it was the other book I finished this year and after the trashing I got from an agent, I probably should have done. Fear not, Hexe will get her chance on the flames next year, no doubt, and if I work very hard I might get to burn two next year.

If you’ve even read this far, you may be thinking: “Dave, you’re giving up, don’t give up, I thought you were more stubborn than that?”

It does feel like giving up. We make these things and want them to go on, be re-told and enjoyed. And I’d be lying if I said that this whole thing didn’t make me upset. The reality is that it doesn’t necessarily work that way. Either the concept works and you go with it or it doesn’t and you move on.

In this case, all I can say is that I’m not giving up as much as I’m moving on. There are other stories that will not be written or seen if I continue spending my few precious writing hours banging away on a book that simply fails to pull together a coherent theme and compelling plot. Perhaps, someday, I’ll return to the concept and give it another go, time will have passed and maybe I can re-imagine the concept into something that does work, but I know that the time is not now.

So, going into 2018, without Deep Space Helpdesk around my neck, I’ve got just the one book to revise and that leaves me mental and creative freedom to move forward with new projects. Maybe I’ll even get that break out novel, whatever it is, finished this year. Who knows? But I’m going to find out.

Happy new year, and happy writing, friends.

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9 thoughts on “Another year, another book to burn.

  1. Erin McRay says:

    You seem more positive, and even philosophical, about this than last year. Your writing has improved steadily and dramatically since I’ve been reading your work. A new project to let your new skills really take flight may be just what’s called for. Just keep on plugging away, I know great things are in store for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If you ever want a less jaded pair of eyes on Dark Queen of Darkness…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I get what you’re saying, and I respect you for it. I even read an author (I can’t remember who now) who said, “Your first book belongs in a drawer.” So I do admire you for realizing this and doing something about it.
    And oh my God, was I nodding when you were talking about editing/revising circles. I know a few writers who have worked on the same story for years, and I just want to set myself on fire whenever they talk about it.
    It sounds like you’ve been going to conferences, looking for feedback, and that’s great! Because I wouldn’t want you to be burning your books if while you’re writing them you’re not taking the pains to get better in your craft. I hope you’re reading craft books, editing books. Chatting with authors whose writing you admire and learning tips, tricks, and techniques. No point in burning books if you keep making the same mistakes and running into the same issues that make you dislike whatever it is you’re working on.
    You also can’t learn working on the same thing over and over again, so cheers to you for knowing when to throw in the towel. 2018 will be a great year for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. And yeah, I do want to improve and when I feel like I’m not making progress, that’s when it’s time to move on. I try hard to seek and take advice, which I know can be hard for a lot of writers, it’s hard for me even now. The best part of moving on is that there are other things to work on.

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