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Friday, May 13, 2011

Talk Thursday (on Friday): Excess

I admit it; I have too much stuff. I could say we have too much stuff, but that’s an open invitation to an argument. One person’s too much stuff is just barely enough and maybe we should get a little more. Fifteen years I’ve been living with Joan and if I wanna make it to sixteen I had better shut the heck up. Besides, I do have too much stuff. I have scads of books and t-shirts and things and I’m not even sure what-all in the scary room that used to be a garage and is now kind of the laundry room/craft room/ cat box room/ place where we dump stuff we don’t know what to do with. There are still boxes in that vicinity that we never opened when we moved in, uh, 2004. The only reason I haven’t opened them (besides the fact that they’re scary) is that all the stuff I’m looking for might not be in there, and then I might have to acknowledge that it’s Lost Forever and then I might have to go get more stuff.

Seriously, I feel guilty about the quantity of stuff I seem to have accumulated in my pushing-42 years on the planet. I have some weird stuff. A set of bagpipes, for one thing – a bit dried out, but probably still serviceable. A guitar. A bicycle pump. A nifty space heater that I’m now afraid to use because it might fall over, catch on fire and kill everybody. But by far the largest quantity of excess stuff is paper. I have more paper than any normal person. I have an embarrassment of paper. And I haven’t the foggiest idea what to do about it.

Way back in the mists of prehistory, ie, in high school, this whole writing thing started to get out of hand. I started to get this idea that I might want to quit fooling around and actually, you know, do something, like, I dunno, slap some words together and see what happens. A friend of mine decided to join me—God alone knows why—and we alternated chapters, if you could call them chapters, until we came to the end of one of the sorriest tales ever penned by anyone, ever. Don’t even ask me what was about. It’s embarrassing enough that it exists. It was about 140 pages and it didn’t conclude so much as it mercifully crashed into a wall. I thought it was brilliant, naturally. I still have it. It’s hermetically sealed in an envelope and I’ll probably leave instructions to cremate it with my remains, but I can’t bring myself to just put the thing out of its misery.

My next foray into the great literary scene was 224,000 words long. I shit you not. It was a sweeping epic of monumental proportions. This one had a plot, sort of, and there was a war going on, sort of, and the protagonists (oo, I used a big word) all got laid and there were exciting plot twists and, well, it actually wasn’t bad, except for being totally incomprehensible. This sucker took up four (count them, four) three-ring binders, took an entire weekend to print out on a dot matrix printer (remember those?) and ended happily, I think. One of the boxes down in the scary room is completely full of this manuscript, which I will probably never open again. And I haven’t brought myself to throw away that one, either.

By the third one, I was in college, and I’d actually learned something, scary as that may sound. The third one was a haunted house tale that I rather liked. There was only problem; it dropped dead on me at about page 200. I mean seriously, it just died. I could not add even one more sentence. If a story is going to die on you, it ought to be polite and drop dead around page ten or so. I keep kicking around the notion of going back and seeing if I can fix it, because, well, I hate to give up. I probably won’t, though. And twenty years later, it’s still in a box someplace. (I hate to tell you this, but this blog post does not end happily.)

You get the idea. I am swimming in abandoned manuscripts. I’m not even sure how many I have, but somewhere between five and ten, anyway. I sometimes give Joan a hard time because she holds on to old zines and underground publications, but I really ought to just get over myself because I’m just as bad. The good news is, I managed not to start querying agents and publishers on any of these suckers. I at least knew I was producing material that was Not Suitable For Publication. (Yeah, and Danielle Steel is Shakespeare. But I quibble.)

Still, ya gotta start somewhere. It’s not like there’s an instruction book or anything. I’d like to think I haven’t written ten bad books. I would like to think I have succeeded fabulously at finding ten ways that do not work. Meantime I’ll, uh, hold on to my illustrative examples. Yeah. That’s it. That’s the ticket. Until somebody buys me a great big shredder, that is.


wolfwhosings said...

Ah, old work. The bane of some of our existences. I admit, I've gotten to the point where I have either mercifully lost old art or have gotten inured to the rest, but "the cringe" crosses all disciplines.

Jen said...

I keep hoping some bookworms will get into my stash and chew it up. If they wanted to spit it out on the front steps of HarperCollins and do a deal, that'd be cool, too, as long as I get my 10%.