Saturday, March 12, 2011

(Nearly) The End

It seemed to him that all his life he had followed the ideals that other people, by their words or their writings, had instilled into him, and never the desires of his own heart. Always his course had been swayed by what he thought he should do and never by what he wanted with his whole soul to do. He put all that aside now with a gesture of impatience. He had lived always in the future, and the present always, always had slipped through his fingers. His ideals? He thought of his desire to make a design, intricate and beautiful, out of the myriad, meaningless facts of life: had he not seen also that the simplest pattern, that in which a man was born, worked, married, had children, and died, was likewise the most perfect? It might be that to surrender to happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories.

The passage is from W. Somerset Maugham's novel Of Human Bondage, near the ending; the last page, in fact. Maugham was a prolific writer who wrote novels, short stories, travel essays and plays in the beginning of the 20th century, and a literary hero of mine.

In the past few years I've written a few hundred journalistic stories and columns, a handful of short stories, countless blog posts and, as of last night, two novels. I want to make it clear that both of the novels are only in their very early first draft stages. I've always written short stories throughout my adult life but never thought I'd be able to handle the marathon effort that is novel writing until the summer of 2009 when on a road trip with my family, the perfect time to think as the miles roll by. At that time I had two short stories that I couldn't help but see as overlapping, so I overlapped them and went from there with the goal of finishing the draft by the time I turned 40 a year later. I did that with a couple of months to spare.

The idea then was, of course, to revise, revise, revise that draft. But I wrote another short story that I felt had themes and characters I wanted to expand on, and when that story won the Memphis Magazine fiction contest, I figured I should ride that momentum. And that finished draft, with the working title The Simplest Pattern (from the passage above), was wrapped up last night to a long sigh, a cigar and the gift of a bottle of wine from Kristy and Andria.

It's a great feeling to finish a project like that, to cross the finish line of such a marathon. Now begins the work, of course. It's nowhere near finished, but it's so good to have a beginning page and an ending page and 324 pages in between. And now begins the fun - the revising, the moving around, the deconstruction and rebuilding. The ingredients are all there and I just need to get my hands into them and mix it up a bit. I'm not the best editor when it comes to cutting, but I can add a spoonful more of this and a dash more of that like nobody's business. Coming in at 69,108 words, I have no doubt I'll be able to whittle it down to 75,000 without even blinking.

It's not a bibliography the length of Maugham's, of course, it's only two stacks of papers on my desk, two files in my computer. But they're my stacks of paper and I intend to make them the best I possibly can.