Stopping and Starting

I spent the last ten months rewriting my book.

It took a while to bounce back from the blunt and unfiltered feedback of a professional editor but I eventually settled into an enjoyable stretch of joyful creation without attachment. The days were ends in themselves. I worked in the moment, for the sheer pleasure of stringing together words, playing with rhythm and dwelling upon the mind-blowing revelations that drove me. I blasted electronic dance music in my headphones, ran and hiked the mountain and made beautiful memories with my family. The down times came and went like always, but I didn’t resist them nor did I convince myself that they were my reality. I tried to not identify my reality with my thoughts about reality.

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I countered rainy days with blankets and hot cups of tea, deep breaths and good books and celebrated sunny days with hikes and adventures with family and friends. I wrote everyday and I didn’t share it with anyone. A few weeks ago, I reached the end of the book. Again.

I shared it with eight readers. I felt good and was happy with the book’s progression but this pause in the creative process in anticipation of feedback really disrupted the whole creating without attachment thing. The truth is I am not actually creating without attachment. I am writing this book with the intention of selling it, with the intention of it becoming the foundation of my writing career. There is a sense of urgency burning inside me, fueled by my desire to provide for my family but most of all to connect with people, to share ideas, images and moments that inspire presence, gratitude, vulnerability, love and compassion.

I received feedback from six of my readers. I heard some of the most touching and validating praise I have ever received as a writer but I also heard specific and actionable issues, deficiencies and suggestions for improvement. The praise felt good and the criticism stung but both feelings faded as they usually do into the only constant, steady truth of this life: the present moment.

My editor told me ten months ago that it often takes several years to write a good book and that mine “is particularly complex and ambitious.” I had coffee with a local fiction author a couple weeks ago who said the same thing. When I asked him if he thought it was a good idea to start querying agents, he asked me how I make my living.

“I’m really nice to my wife,” I said.

“Oh, well then it sounds like you’re in a good place,” he said. “I think you should delay it as much as possible. Agents are eager to find any possible reason to reject. They just get so many submissions.”

He said at some point I would get to a point where there is nothing more I can do with the book, but I am not at that point yet. I still have beta reader feedback coming in. The more I write and rewrite and let this story marinate in my subconscious, the more complex and nuanced it becomes. Obvious thematic connections that I never remotely contemplated are starting to manifest. My voice is ripening, embracing more humor and confidence. I have made progress as a story-teller, grounding the reader in scenes, weaving in description, dialogue, mood and theme, but there is definitely more work to be done. I don’t know if this book, as a concrete and finite entity in this world, will ever approximate my visualization of it, but I do know that, right now, there are specific and concrete things I can do to make it better.

Thankfully, the spring sun is beginning to dwell upon our patio for a few hours each morning. The creek is still babbling from the sparse winter rainfall. The mountain and ocean beckon always to humble and inspire. I will continue to write, to add layers of complexity and richness to my story, to seek the truth and try to convey it in beautiful ways. I will endeavor to do this as an end in itself, without attachment to results, until there is nothing more I can do.


Why I Like Fiction

Writing in the narrative form is a brand new endeavor for me.

As a philosophy/political science/law student, newspaper columnist, trial and appellate lawyer and blogger, I am well versed in expository and persuasive writing. I enjoy this type of writing and firmly believe in the power of explanation and argument. I have witnessed it personally with the articles I’ve written and motions and briefs I’ve argued.

My words have affected the fate of human liberty. My words have ignited inspiration and debate.

Good things can be achieved with appeals to reason. Appeals to reason can change the world.

But reason can only take us so far. There are elements of the human experience that are beyond the scope of reason. The human experience itself, our very existence in the company of so much nothingness, is beyond the scope of reason. I cannot ignore this fact if I am to achieve my aim as a writer to speak truth.

Underlying every rational construction is suchness. Underlying every idea or concept about the world and our place in it is an experience rooted in place and time. This individualized experience as a human being contains more truth in its suchness than any argument or idea.

That we are here is more worthy of our attention than why we are here.

Fiction provides a complete and accurate picture of the human experience. In exposing the unfiltered ruminations of an individual consciousness, it gives the reader an emotional basis for empathy. Readers develop intimacy with that consciousness and are left with the feeling that they are not alone in this world, that everybody suffers, everybody has shortcomings, everybody has thoughts that they shouldn’t have, everybody berates themselves to some degree and to some extent everybody acknowledges their brilliance.

By anchoring the reader in an authentic human story with detail and description, abstract ideas and concepts about the meaning and purpose of life become less abstract, more in your face, more real, relevant, pressing and urgent.

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This confluence of idea and story/philosophy and experience is where magic happens and what makes fiction so powerful.

Art is definitely the most powerful force we have at our disposal. It is a collaborative, dialectical process.

I write with my voice, but my reader reads with the voice in their head.  When my voice meets the reader’s voice, a whole new voice is created and that’s pretty fucking cool.