Actually, it’s pretty bad

If books could kill ...

“And it’s only Love” didn’t work the way I hoped it would at the start. It is a bad book. The fundamental idea wasn’t strong enough to save the novel, and it drowned beneath the weight of the plots it tried to carry. I am adding it to the raggedy old box in the closet where dead books go to spend eternity.

It won’t be alone in there.

I wonder, is that all there is to writing a book?

Because if that’s all there is … .


Categories: Books, Writers

27 replies »

  1. Oh, no. How did it become this when once you called it the best thing you’ve ever written?

    I am sad. Are you sure you’re looking at it with the right eyes? Maybe you should let it rest for a bit and then look again.

  2. Pieces of it do represent the best of my writing, but it fails as a whole. I am especially fond of the beginning dozen or so pages, as well as a nice mountain scene that begins part two.

    The essential storyline kept getting off course when I needed extraneous plot devices to explain why things were happening the way they were. Then the plots kept compounding and taking on a life of their own.

    So I was left toward the end with a bundle of loose ends, and either would have to triple the size of the book to deal with them — at the same time making it a different book from the original idea — and even with that, Danika was a sex object and a gold-digger. That’s not what I wanted her to be.

    Regardless, let’s face the music: it is likely nobody was going to publish this book, so it’s not like going into the cemetery box would make any difference. Writing it was in itself a good experience.

    Thanks for giving a shit one way or the other, though.

  3. How can you bare to let it go after all the hours you’ve put in? Experience is the most probable answer but even so…feel gutted for you.

    • Two and a half years, give or take. I’ve done it before, three or four times.

      Some writers ought to do the same more often.

      John Irving, for example.

      I’ve been trying to read his “Last Night in Twisted River,” and have stuck with it, scanning a lot, because the Iowa City scenes are interesting to me. But it is a terrible book: disjointed, flagrantly self-indulgent, massively chaotic, and, worst of all, mostly boring. He should have sent this one to the mss cemetery.

      In my case, I do not feel “gutted” because writing is what I do, not publishing. Publishing happens sometimes, but it’s only the writing that matters. I wrote it, I learned from it, and there it is.

      • “In my case, I do not feel “gutted” because writing is what I do, not publishing. Publishing happens sometimes, but it’s only the writing that matters. I wrote it, I learned from it, and there it is.”

        Yes! I’ve more or less decided to put the squatter novel in the drawer due to various market reasons, and am trying to feel in my bones what I know in my head, which is that writing and publishing are two totally different, separate things. This comment of yours helped me. Thank you.

        • Thanks for the comment, Cari. It is certainly a bitter lesson in the beginning, but one most writers are going to have to learn.

          I don’t know if this falls into the category of consolation, but of the (now) 4 novels in my cemetery box, 2 are the first and second novels I wrote way back then. One of the other ones is a novel that I did send out for a while back in the late 80s, eventually my agent said we might as well give up on it “for marketing reasons.” The other is this one just finished, because I don’t think it’s good enough.

          Maybe your bones aren’t going to ever agree with your head, but I think that the best, most authentic, writers know when this has to be done and just move on to write another one.

          It’s best to understand that there is no causal or influential relationship between fine writing and any form of publishing.

          • It does feel like the right decision. Gail will certainly be happy–it’s what she’s wanted me to do with this one all along. (There’s one big consolation right there. Put it away and I still have Gail in my corner.) I put my first book in the drawer and didn’t die, so that makes it easier this time around.

            Good luck with reworking Island in the Pines. I loved what you shared of that, and will look forward to reading about (what you choose to share of) your process as you work back into it.

            • Gail is about as good as it gets in one’s corner.

              My agent suggested changing the title from Island in the Pines to Blossom (name of the town where it takes place), and I have agreed.

              I’m glad you have shown up here to comment again.

  4. Donko! It’s not a bad book (although, by now I went through first pages only)! And … remember the horoscope! Your fame ….. You have to send it to the publisher!

    • It may not be “bad,” in the sense that there are some really bad books out there, like most of them. But it’s not good enough to satisfy me, to see it in print with my name on it. It was a diligent effort, but it didn’t work.


  5. There is always the chance I’ll do one of those Jesus-Lazarus tricks, and I have in the past robbed good parts of bad books, and if I get bored enough and can’t find anything at all new to work on, then maybe I’ll have a look again and see if I can resurrect it.

    No, I have not sent it to my agent.

    I don’t think it turned out to be good enough as a novel, and naturally I would be embarrassed to have anyone read something that is not the best I can do. That is why I don’t have anyone reading my work in progress: it’s not the best I can do until I get to the end and am myself satisfied with it.

    Ultimately there is only one true judge of one’s creative work – the creator. Me. If I am pleased with and proud of the work, then I am quite up front about it. If I am not, then I go off quietly and find something else to work on.

    It is a nice feeling, though, to have Cyberspace friends who care one way or the other.

  6. What I’m going to do:

    I’ve been sitting on the Arkansas “memoir” book because, again, I knew there was something wrong with it. I didn’t like the narrator and I wanted to like him. Finally, I figured out that the basic reason he did not come off sympathetically was because he was the narrator of his own story, his voice dominated, which meant a limitation of vision, thus, a limitation of sympathy.

    So I’m going to write it again from the start, change the narrator pov from 1st to 3rd, and expand the severely restricted point of view.

    After that, I may have another read through Only Love and see if there is any hope for it. If there is, it will involve way more than changing from 1st to 3rd, or present to past; it will mean either savagely cutting it (hoping enough remains to make it large enough to bother printing) or expanding it at least double, if not triple … 300,000 words!

    But by then, I may have an altogether new and compelling idea.

    Or I might write poetry.

  7. Like everyone else, I’m sorry the mss didn’t work out, Don. I applaud your toughness and lack of self-pity – imagine how much less crap there would be out there in the world if every writer held themselves to as high a standards as you.

    Having an interest in rural backwaters myself, I am going to be most curious to see what you’ve got to say about Arkansas.

    • I appreciate the compliment, and double-down on the desire that more writers hold themselves to the highest possible literary standards instead of clogging up the publishing machinery with so much purely bad writing and inept story-telling.

      I don’t know, really, how good a writer I am, but I have no doubt that I always work to be as good as I can be; what falls short embarrasses me, and I protect myself by dumping failed work. That’s my version of ego.

      I have tried to write an “Arkansas book” in one way or another for at least 30 years, this is just the latest attempt. I wish one of them would finally work.

      What would make me most happy right now would be if all the writers among Donko’s half-dozen got their books published this year.

  8. You raise an interesting point, Rose. But I think we ought to consider the difference between poetry and novels. I think poems are unusually, extremely personal, while novels are more general. I think of good poetry as word painting, while good novels are story-telling in print. I don’t think the same criteria is at work here.

    Of course there is bad poetry– so much of it that I slacked off reading poetry at all a long time ago. And there are truly terrible novels — I am slogging through one of John Irving’s now. It has always seemed to me that the bad sticks out, or smells, more than the good.

    My point is that the artist, the creator, whatever, must be the best and final judge of his own work. Look, people like pot boilers and bodice busters; for Chrissakes, they sell like rubbers in a brothel. But that doesn’t make them good. Most people (in the States) believe that people who are not heterosexual have no right to be married, but that doesn’t mean they are right.

    It’s called “the rule of the mob,” or sometimes, “they tyranny of the majority.” I ignore all that (in art and politics and especially in culture) and depend on my own judgement, my own ability to think critically and rationally, the wisdom inherent in wide experience. I know when something is good or not. 87 people out of 100 can tell me this novel is fantastic, the greatest book since Shakespeare, and I will still know they are wrong.

    It comes down to that, finally.

  9. It does indeed make a difference to have another piece of work that needs doing. But I also know that if the time comes when my brain is not offering new things, I still have the cemetery box with (now) 4 dead novels in it. One never knows, maybe there is something useful in there, at least a stimulus.

    I’ll tell you what bothers me the most about this. It is that all along the way I kept having the feeling that something was wrong, that maybe I was rushing it, and instead of listening to my best inner voice, I just kept rushing along, little river of words. That makes me question the current condition of my long trustworthy instincts. I should never have gotten to the end of this novel before getting a solid “this is really great shit” feeling. Instead, discomfort nagged at me.

    I wonder why? There seemed to be a compulsion to reach the end. I speculate without evidence that it might be connected with the changes enforced by age. Facts are there to be faced: in a bit more than 4 years, I will be 70. That is reasonably old. I have already outlived my father by 6 years. I am in good health and not often sick. Regardless … let’s call mustard mustard here. I no longer have the glorious luxury of Time. Lately I have caught myself thinking — I just want to live long enough to finish this. So I think that subconsciously I have started to rush where before I use to pace and contemplate.

    The list of things I will never do again is becoming longer now than the list of things I have done.

    Make a note of this. If you are lucky, you will get to be old enough to understand.

  10. I trust your judgment, so I don’t have much to say, really.

    No wonder you’ve been quiet, sort of.


  11. Hi Donko,

    Do not give up. I have not read the book but if you feel it is not OK it may be just like in the famous Pelisky film – if I paraphrase – “good writer is never satisfied”.
    And if you feel you can’t redo it you just learned a new way how not to do it!
    I would like to read one day a book about your own feelings and experiences in the life which you are living in various countries – you certainly have lot of “to tell”.
    I support the oppinion of Brad: “Maybe you should let it rest for a bit and then look again.”

    • Ahoj Eva … I just saw the pictures Paula put online from your mini clan festival in Holic. Too bad we missed it, because it looked like a good time for the six of you.

      Maybe I will see some way to make this book good enough to send out, but not for a while. I am too disappointed in how badly it turned out, and I don’t even want to think about it, much less look at it, for a while.

      I am back working on the Arkansas civil rights book.

      I hope we are all together again for the next clan festival.

  12. Don, Brave post. Stoic as you always are. Write the Arkansas memoir. I’ve been waiting for that.

    I posted this link on Numero Cinq–hope you don’t mind.


    • Hi Doug. When are you coming to Buenos Aires?

      Feel free to link.

      I like Stoic better than brave, what someone else called me.

      Since I no longer expect what I write will be published, I might as well keep dicking around with it until I’m satisfied that it’s the best I can do … but then, I have sort of always done that anyway.

      • Buenos Aires is in my mind so much these days. I’m reading Witold Gombrowicz’s diaries–he lived there for 20 or more years. Fascinating stuff. E.g. The story of how he got his literary friends at a cafe to help translate his novel Ferdydurke into Spanish.

        As always the problem is money. We just got back from our annual canoe trip–even that seems to be getting more and more expensive.