If You Write It, It Will Sell!
I did not choose to write. My personality is such that I thrive when I'm around people not holed up alone in a room banging out words on a computer.. I write because I have to. Characters bombard me with their need to be heard. A storyline falls into place like a missile centering on its target. Articles, novels, stories, poems and plays rest in file drawers. Most often they remain untouched, rarely read or sent for publication. They are never rewritten because once the writing is over, the urge is satisfied, I am at peace, and the nagging little inner voice is stilled.
There was one exception when the voice wouldn't be stilled. It bugged me about ‘The Gathering', a novel I had written several years before. Now and then passages from it would streak into my consciousness, like a fighter jet zooming into the air from the runway of a destroyer. Whenever I placed something into my writing drawer, the letters of the Gathering file stood out like a flag unfurled on a balmy day.
I had to admit it was a good story, and it could probably be shaped into a fine novel, capable of being published and well read. It might even be a best seller, if it had the right author rewrite it.
I've never had an overriding desire to be published. As a writer I lack the discipline to rewrite. Do I also lack courage? Am I afraid someone will tell me I ‘m really not a writer? Whatever the reason might be, ‘The Gathering' remained in the file drawer.
One afternoon, as I slipped a handwritten poem into the drawer,
I sensed a voice inside my head saying, "if you write it, it will sell." I slammed the drawer shut. I had seen the movie, "Field of Dreams ", and knew that's where the words came from, only instead of "if you build it, they will come," I heard, "if you write it, it will sell."
No thank you, I decided, walking away from the file cabinet. I had no desire to rewrite chapter after chapter to make it a viable piece of work. Rewriting was a mini war for me, one skirmish after another. Besides the work of rewriting there is the battle for publication, finding an agent, or getting the best editor. Then after acceptance, selling the book becomes the next battle. It could be a long weary war and I didn't feel I wanted to become involved.
"If you write it, it will sell!" I heard the words over and over. Ignoring them, I wrote a play, placed it in the file drawer next to the historical romance, which was behind the philosophical essay, which was tucked between a travel article and a health and nutrition feature.
‘The Gathering' (later published as ‘The House of Annon') was pushed further and further back into the drawer. I thought of it often, but managed to ignore it for two years, until a rainy Saturday afternoon when I was moving my work space into another room. As I carried a huge stack of files, some slipped out of my hands. I began to pick them up, but one file kept falling, and finally spilled its contents. Of course it was ‘The Gathering'. Fuming with annoyance, I carried the files into the other room and returned to pick up the pages.
"If you write it, it will sell," the words echoed in my mind.
"Go away," I muttered, shoving the pages into the manila file.
"All you need is a battle plan," the voice continued. "Survey your situation, prepare your strategy, line up the troops, and victory is yours." I was losing it. Thoughts like these attacking my mind were beginning to scare me.
Sitting on the floor, I pulled a few pages from the folder and began to read. They really weren't too bad. Since I had let so much time pass, I could read it with a fresh slant. The writing wasn't too good, but the story was very good. I had forgotten about the characters. I began to see their faces in my mind's eye, just as I had envisioned when I'd created them. By God, I'd give it a shot and try rewriting it. Maybe then the voice would leave me alone. How foolish that thought was. I had constant advice from my unseen prodder as I worked on rewriting.
"Give Anon a more surrealistic appearance," the voice ordered. "No, Peter wouldn't wear anything but perfectly tailored clothes. Why don't you make Marcy have something to hide? You aren't capturing Alice's heartache."
My mind began the battle with the unseen force.
"Leave me alone. Let me write this thing myself."
"Okay but you aren't describing Tony as he really is. He needs to be more sarcastic and sullen."
"Go away. Leave me alone."
"Are you sure you want Anon to feel that way?"
"Leave me alone." I shouted to the empty room. Breathing deeply, I became calmer and read the words on the monitor screen.
"I don't like to bother you but that sentence doesn't read very clearly."
"Leave me alone or I swear I will never write another word," my mind screamed.
Silence prevailed. I reread the sentence. It wasn't clear. I reworked it. Still not clear. What was I trying to have the character imply? Why were his words out of sync with his usual forceful manner? There's no way he could become a wimp in just a few lines.
"What is happening?" I questioned the inner voice.
"Should Alan and Tony have their battle so early in the story?"
"Why isn't Peter getting involved, and Anon certainly should be more forceful, after all, it is his Gathering." I threw out the questions as I surveyed the manuscript.
The questions received no reply. The voice was stilled. Good. I could get on with the story. It didn't happen. I reworked several lines and passages, but the words didn't convey the true attitudes of the characters. The scenes seemed flat and without life. "To hell with it," I told myself. "I don't need this aggravation in my life."
I shut down the computer, turned off the monitor, and stashed the old manuscript into the file drawer. I'd had enough. It was time to get back into the world. For weeks I didn't write anything. I didn't even read. I wanted nothing to do with words. Friends stopped by and I went out. Life became fun again, with no nagging little voice butting in.
One night I was watching an old war movie on TV. It was late, and I was half-asleep when the faces of the actors became the characters of The Gathering. Anon was the Major leading the Company. The young soldiers were Peter, Tony, Alan, James and Mark. I sleepily watched as they fought their way across the battlefield. Tony was felled and Alan lifted him onto his own thin shoulders. Peter helped them both get to a quiet spot. Annon checked them and hurried on with the other troops.
What was going to happen to them? I wondered.
I got up, turned on the PC and started from the beginning without looking at the old manuscript or pulling up the saved pages on the computer. Daily I encountered the vast terrain of dubious metaphors, time worn cliches, obscure points of view, and lifeless dialogue. I faltered over a trite phrase and retreated from an agonizing plot device. Peter lost his enthusiasm; Mark tried to prove Anon was a fraud; Alan brought friction to the entire group.
Stymied, I took long walks, sipped wine and called old friends. My shoulders ached and my mind begged for peace. When I tried not to write, I couldn't. I was hooked. I could visualize their faces and hear their voices when I was preparing a meal or running an errand. They bombarded my sleep, and bits of their dialogue played in my ear like CD player set for continuous play. Annon's concern that he would die before a successor could be found, urged me on each day. Marcy's hope for a better life, and Alice's tears fueled my passion.
As I worked I became less critical, and the voice didn't tell me where structure was wrong, or scenes inept. The words were encouraging. "Keep going, you're doing fine."
I began to have confidence. Daily I labored over each scene until at long last I wrote, ‘The End'.
Closing my eyes, I visualized a new scene. The flag waving, the battles won, and ‘The Gathering', published.
The Gathering was published in 2004, with the new title, "The House of Annon"