Sunday, January 3, 2016

After You've Read This Book---

For a considerable number of the early years in which you pursued the quixotic, holy-grail-like search for the one book whose contents would reveal to you the secrets you sought relative to telling a meaningful, convincing story, you haunted new and used bookstores and libraries.  Your eyes scanned titles in every division of the Dewey Decimal System.  When you became aware of the Library of Congress Cataloging System, you scanned those as well.

Thrift stores were given their due as prospects, and when you became aware of Garage or Estate Sales, you correctly supposed these, too, would have somewhere in their faux cornucopia, stacks of books in which your quest might reside.

Forget about the naivete of the concept driving you; your quest had as a side effect the reading of many books you might not have read, your passing of time in the midst of books, and your eventual regard of them--all of them--as friends rather than presences of whom you were in awe. 

In addition to the hundreds of hours spent in new and used bookstores, or scanning the racks of newsstands for the latest uploading of massmarket paperbacks, you trod the underground stacks at the Powell Library at UCLA, you had a job as a page at the Beverly Hills Library, another at the public library on Mullen Street, directly across from Los Angeles High School, and you worked at two bookstores.

With all that history behind you came the revelation that you were already so idiosyncratic in your tastes, so free of structure in your interests, so biased in your biases, that the only possible book you could find that would open the doors you sought to be flung open was a book you would have to write yourself.

As if this were not enough of a revelation, you were in fact well into writing such a book--a novel, of course--before you realized these revelations you sought would only work once.  After writing the book that would teach you all you sought to understand, you'd have to start all over again, each time you'd completed a new work.

The consequences of ignoring this discovery were calamitous for you.  If you did not begin your discovery anew on each successive project, you'd in effect be duplicating yourself.  Never mind that there might be one or more unpublished works between new works.  Also, never mind that some writers seem able to use one successful title as a recipe book for subsequent works.  A serious role model for you is the late Joseph Heller who, after being questioned if he were concerned that he'd not produced another Catch-22, replied, "I've already written one Catch-22. Why would I want to write another?"

Too soon to tell if your longtime-in-the-making approach is successful; you're still alive and thus have the ideas for and drive to write more books.  You do know that the progression of events that make you the writer-editor-teacher you are feels appropriate, thus, at the absolute least, you begin each new day feeling appropriate.

This progression of personal evolution has brought you in close congruence with another standard you began applying with editorial clients and some students.  This is the "After you've read this book" approach.  It goes like this:  "After you've read this book, you'll never--"  The ending is left open because the intent is to convey the effect of reading the book on the reader.

For some years now, you've used this approach with your most prolific client.  "After you've read this book, you'll never {in one notable case] look at the donkey as a simple-minded beast of burden."  "After you've read this book, you'll never think of the ocean in the same way."

Of course the approach works for fiction.  After you've read this novel, you'll never regard families the way you once did.  After you read this novel, you'll never think the same as you once did about romantic love--or the love of friendship--or the love of family.

The beginning writer has some hard-wired belief that her or his novel will change the course of humanity.  You surely had that feeling, and are glad you did.  But that changed when you heard your mother brag to a friend that a novel of yours was published today, only to have your mother's friend reply, "That's nice," then go on to say that she has a daughter who writes.

The best part of the deal is the potential for change your next project can have on you.  If that works, you've won.

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