Thursday, May 18, 2006

I'm Between Projects

If you tell people you're "between jobs," it means you probably got shitcanned for incompetence or diddling the boss's wife.

Say you're between girlfriends, and it means you are a loser who was caught diddling your girlfriend's best friend.

If you're between books on the reading list, it means you are watching quality televised fare which, in my case, usually involves exploding cars, martial arts, and silicone implants.

And if you're a writer between novels, you're simply in limbo.

The lucky lad (or lass) between books has actually published his first novel, and it was successful enough that he's been asked to write a follow-up; the miserable sod has not published the novel and is the process of rewriting it, or, worse, has published a novel, and is rewriting the follow-up, again and again.

The interregnum between books should just be outlawed. At least it should involve debauchery. I'd rather picture a writer, flush with success, blowing it all on the worthy accumulation of consumer goods. Screw the next book, live for today! (George Best, the soccer star who died late last year, uncorked one of my all-time favorite quotes when said that he blew all his money on "booze, birds, and fast cars—the rest I squandered.")

George: the best

That there have been famously successful writers who drank more liquor than the annual collective output of Seagram's, Anheuser-Busch, and several well-known wineries in Bordeaux just adds to my romantic notion of the literary life, even though most drunks are assholes who write one good thing (Frederick Exley, to cite an example I've recently read) and can't be counted on to pay the heating bill in the middle of the worst winter on record.

I am not here to sing the praises of demon alcohol, but to ponder in my circular, rambling manner just what happens when you finish a novel, collection, play, or otherwise, and do not have something else to work on. You know, when you have nothing to justify your existence.

Famous actors get to say that they're "between projects," implying that they have a pile of scripts stacked higher than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They get to pick what they do, when they do it, and for how much money. Us mad typists have no such luxury.

Even those of fame and fortune. Balzac, bless him, would finish a novel, put it aside, and immediately start working on another, like he had finished his coq au vin and was starting dessert. I don't know what Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates do once they finish a book, but it's obvious that they're not taking two weeks in Disneyworld.

As I am "between" projects, this question quite bedevils me. I am rewriting my novel, so that the new, improved version can again betwitch my agent and depress publishers, and as the inevitable rejection letters for my better than average, but not really excellent short stories that I write only because I think it's the "thing to do," I am at quite the loss.

I have several ideas for another novel, but feel quite the loser for starting another book while seeing my first rot unpublished. Revising is a noble and time-consuming task indeed, but it is bereft of novelty, interest, excitement. Rewriting a story or novel for what seems like the 40th time is more depressing than one's 40th birthday, and you don't get cake and, unlike turning 40, in rewriting a novel one doesn't have an excuse to go all daft and blow your money on booze, birds, and fast cars.

Non-stop writing action

Revisions can be debilitating after a few rounds. You can chart the demise of the book by the number of times rewritten:

First rewrite: Writing is fresh, new, interesting; characters are as funny, evil, or crazy as you remember; things look pretty good, save for a bad sentence here and there.

Second rewrite: You realize that some parts are underwhelming; passages once thought brilliant turn out to be as pointless as Paris Hilton.

Third rewrite: Similes lose all power and die a humiliating death; witty dialog reads like it's been lifted from "The Family Circus"; all characters become stupid bloody wankers who you'd like to pump full of hot lead.

Fourth rewrite: Words move on page, lose all meaning; punctuation marks start speaking.

Fifth rewrite: Time to start a fire.

You tend to slip into a walking coma in which nothing sparkles, nothing reads well, and everything seems like you repeat the same words over and over and realize that your own mother, the woman who gave you life and loves you more than anything, would read the novel and say, "This is the worst whaleshit ever put on paper."

So I'm between books, rewriting furiously while contemplating my next project. If Wife or someone else would wrest the remote from my hands, I might actually get something written.