Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Thomas Wolfe and the Loss of Magic

by Janis Patterson

Sometimes finishing a book can be the saddest thing on the earth. I know that when the magic has been really working and the book is good and tight and alive, I often have difficulty in writing the last chapter or two.

I know what’s going to happen. I even have most of the wording in my head. I can see the action in my mind just like watching a movie screen. But I hesitate and procrastinate about putting the words to paper… or pixels, as the case may be.

Other times I race to the finish (as much as my picky craft-obsessed mind will allow) and typing The End is an incredible relief, one that could be called escape. I am shed of that world, which has grown tiresome, and the characters, whom I sometimes have come to actively dislike, while the wonderful, pristine world of a new project beckons seductively. I don’t know why one project becomes the mental equivalent of hard labor and another a delight which I am reluctant to complete. It has nothing to with genre, as this phenomenon has happened in every genre I write – except children’s, but as I have only done one of those and it was the result of a fit of bad temper, I don’t believe that is big enough a sample to count.

I do, however, flatter myself enough to believe that my readers cannot tell which book has been a delight to write and which has been labor.

I am currently in this situation. I am within 2-3 thousand words of typing THE END and have been having a terrible time doing it. I love this story, this world, these people. Instead of writing I find myself doing housework, which I normally regard as slightly less enjoyable than a visit to the dentist. No, I must find another analogy, for at the dentist’s I am given copious amounts of happy gas, which is a wise self-defense measure on the part of my dentist. You see, I bite. Quite involuntarily, I assure you, as I actually like him as a person and he is a very good dentist.

Perhaps this ‘place of magic’ is why the phenomena of series are so popular. Once ensconced in a world, book after book after book ensures that neither the reader nor the writer has to step outside their cozy little enclave. But while that is true up to a point I disagree. Yes, there is the safety of familiarity in subsequent iterations, but characters and places move on, and neither is ever the same as the first time.

Thomas Wolfe was right. You can never really go home again.


Kathleen Kaska said...

So true, Janis. I think that's why I love writing series, I don't want to "big" story to end.

Susan Oleksiw said...

When I'm deep in writing the first draft, I don't want to do anything else. I don't mind rewriting/editing, but it's not the same. Putting a book aside when I consider it finished is indeed hard. Thanks for exploring this.

Maris said...

For me, reaching the end of the first draft is usually no problem because I know I will be revisiting the ms several times to catch errors and smooth out the writing. But when I send the finished (in my opinion) book off, that's when the misery occurs. It's like sending my child off. I've lived with these people for so long I don't want to say goodbye. That's when I feel as you're describing.

However, after revisions and reading line edits followed by copy edits, followed by reading the galley...I don't want to see this book again for a long, long time.

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm almost at the end of my work in progress. I know the ending, but have a glitch to overcome before I get there. I must apply discipline so I can enjoy typing those famous words, The End!

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Truer words may not have ever been spoken Janis!
Great post.
Good luck and God's blessings

authorlindathorne said...

I agree. I'm heavily into my work-in-progress right now and can identify.

Unknown said...

Understand, but I think you are the first writer I've ever read who admitted it. Thanks.

Susan said...

I am incredibly embarrassed and can only plead the deadline crazies... (which makes my reluctance to finish the book even more ridiculous!) As most of you have probably known (and been too polite to task me with) the quote 'you can't go home again' comes from Thomas WOLFE, not Thomas Hardy. Sigh. Forgive me. I am not normally so ignorant. Or careless. Susan, aka Janis

Earl Staggs said...

Susan, I love that warm fuzzy feeling of magic when I finish a story and realize it turned out even better than I'd hoped. It doesn't always happen, but because I know it can, there's an incentive to try. That's one of the reasons I continue to write.

And by the way, Tom Hardy told me to tell you if home had been that great, he wouldn't have left.