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The Final Period

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.
- W. Somerset Maugham

When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner's pick, a woodcarver's gouge, a surgeon's probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year.
- Annie Dillard

I work constantly within the shadow of failure. For every novel hat makes it to my publisher's desk, there are at least five or six that died on the way.
-Gail Godwin

Tuesday I put the final period on a manuscript that has been five years in the making. It was a moment of great satisfaction and gratitude. You begin a novel with an idea, discover what you have to say writing the first draft, and then revise to ensure you've said what you intend. As Annie Dillard observed, writing leads deep into new territory. It is an organic, evolving discovery. Working "in flow," writers translate thought onto the page as it comes without critique or big picture thinking - that enters later. Drafts are time-consuming, solitary, and often miss the mark. (Drafting on a computer is risky in its own special way. Yesterday my blog on this subject evaporated, victim of a random software log-out error. Any recollection of what I wrote, gone.) Flow produces raw material, but editing skills shape story. Creativity requires both vision and control.

Before I became a published working writer, the completion of a manuscript brought me to my knees in tears. That final period marked an inner vision brought into being through disciplined work and a driving faith/ambition. "Butt in chair," as the saying goes. Then I learned completion of a work is an essential, but oddly minor element in getting that book into a reader's hands. What happens after I send my word-perfect darling to my agent for professional market and story evaluation, after it goes out for readings by (hopefully) interested acquisition editors, after it lands in the hands of public relations and distribution experts and book reviewers, falls entirely out of my hands. Books are commodities, subject to trends, news timeliness, celebrity hooks, the whole gamut of what sells something when. Writers, like journalists, photographers, artists and others, are today's "content providers." Making something good does not make it necessary.

Despite this reality, the magic of creativity resides in each and every design, book, or print we put out there. Tuesday when I placed that final period, computer cursor blinking steadily, patiently on the page, I experienced the familiar surge of emotion - tempered by experience. The observation by Gail Godwin that for every book that reaches her publisher several others expired on the way is every writer's truth. Revisions are books lost in process, themes hammered out, language refined, defined, condensed into only what needs to be on the page. If there are rules for novel writing as Maugham laments, no one knows what they are. That's part of the fun - and the risk. The artist reaching out to a frenetic distracted world.

Do I think this novel will survive the journey to publication? I don't know. I have a good feeling about it. I'll be sure to let you know.

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