The allure of The Book Not Yet Written
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I’m at the tick-tick-tick point in Book No. 4. The manuscript is due in December, and Book No. 5 is due a year later.

So, with a deadline looming and a manuscript on the screen in front of me, what book occupies my thoughts? You already know the answer to this one—Book 5. Because, at this lovely, not-yet-written-or-even-started stage of the game, Book 5 is freaking perfect.

Whereas Book 4, as I whack darlings and tweak leaden paragraphs, is nothing but a freaking mess.

Book 5 is a fling, all glittery and full of possibilities. Every few days, I add notes to a file that will (notice the purposefulness of that word will) eventually become a synopsis. Every idea that drops into the file is brilliant, and with each one, Book 5 becomes ever more seductive. Come hither, it whispers. Write me, baby. Write the ever loving hell out of me. Oh, God.

Meanwhile, Book 4 and I are locked in an interminable marriage. Back at home, Book 4 is schlumping around in ratty sweats, hair uncombed and teeth unbrushed. There is no mystery. Each word is painfully familiar, and has long ago lost its charm. Every few chapters, I sneak guiltily off to my Book 5 file for another hit of shimmery perfection, even though I know it will dissolve the minute I apply fingers to keyboard and type the words “Chapter One.”

Ann Patchett has a great essay, The Getaway Car, in which she likens The Book Not Yet Written to a butterfly.

This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its colour, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

That’s Before Writing. Here’s what happens when writing starts:

Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing – all the colour, the light and movement – is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.

Right now, poor Book 4 is one dead butterfly. Maybe, please God by December, it will yet soar.

Filed Under: Writing

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