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I have news.

After multiple rewrites and bone deep revisions, I have finally finished Swimming North.

I sense a little skepticism from some of you, and I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve announced, “I’m done!” with great jubilation, only to realize that the true story had escaped me yet again.

David still looks at me askance when I say I am done. He tells me he will believe when I actually submit it to an agent. I suppose I can’t blame him – we have been at this landmark before. In fact, at times the writing of this book has resembled a Groundhog Day Adventure, with me tearing at my hair and lamenting over the need for yet one more rewrite.

Swimming North has tested my commitment more than any other writing project or task I have set for myself.  For one thing, there has been the grief – the loss of the friends who inspired it in the first place. But there is more. Always, since the beginning of our journey together, this novel has refused to fit neatly into any clear genre, has morphed and twisted from one shape into another, escaping my best attempts to find its natural form.

As I read through it now ghosts linger between the lines – eliminated scenes, beloved phrases, characters who lived through the course of several drafts only to find themselves excised before the end.

It should not surprise me, I suppose. As MC Escher said, “Are you really sure that a floor can’t be a ceiling?” This is the essence of Swimming North – the idea that every life, every story can be seen from another perspective, that reality is not Single but Many, and perhaps is limited only by our ability to perceive.

Even now, when I know it is done, I can think of several other ways to tell this tale that I have not yet tried. But enough is enough. As my main character Vivian knows – too many realities can make you insane.

Today I would like to discuss a little known psychotic disorder which I believe afflicts only writers. Even as I write these words I realize I am generalizing: it is possible that this disorder afflicts only me, that I am a diagnosis alone unto myself, but there is sufficient evidence extant that leads me to believe there may be others.

As I research this phenomenon, I’m tentatively calling it Writer’s Psychosis. It is closely related to the more commonly known Submission Psychosis, and is characterized by paranoia, isolation, and delusional beliefs that everybody who is engaged in reading your manuscript now hates you because of the massive failure of your writing. As a case study, I present my most recent bout with the disorder.

Several days ago I finished yet another draft in the unending revision cycle of Swimming North.  With confidence and only a little trepidation (okay, maybe a lot) I sent the manuscript out to a handful of long suffering readers. All of these people have been through at least one draft already, and there are two who have been with me on this project from the beginning. I think these readers should get some special reward in writer heaven, by the way. Or Karmic blessings. Or something.  Every time I produce yet another draft I expect a collective groan and a general mutiny, although they all protest to be more than happy to read, and sometimes even pretend to be enthusiastic and excited about it.

I digress. As I said,  I finished the draft and sent it to my readers. And I was fine with that. Really. I went cheerfully about my business, relaxed a little, started messing around with my new project – a cozy mystery involving a geriatric vampire trapped in a nursing home – and just enjoyed not having Swimming North hanging over my head for a little while.

Until yesterday afternoon, when it suddenly occurred to me that my readers were conspicuously absent. Those who are usually on Twitter a lot were either not tweeting at all, or having conversations with everybody else but me.  My IM buddy was nowhere visible on IM. No emails from my email friend.

By yesterday evening I was in the grip of the disorder.  I had what seemed to be an epiphany: all of my readers hated the book and were avoiding me because they didn’t want to tell me so. The tiny voice of reason that had managed to avoid being completely strangled by my psychosis argued that this was most likely not the case, that it was Saturday, and a gorgeous spring day outside, that all of my readers are very busy people who actually have lives and responsibilities, possibly even pleasures, outside of reading my never ending revisions.

I was unable to listen to reason. As this was not my first encounter with this form of insanity, however, I took steps toward a cure.  I took the drastic measure of confessing my condition to one of my readers and asking for help. He kindly held my hand, gave me a virtual pat on the head, and reassured me that he was having a life at the moment which didn’t happen to revolve around my manuscript. He told me I was a good writer and that everything would be okay.

This was sufficient to restore me to a semblance of sanity. This morning, another reader surfaced and reassured me she had been out having fun with her family yesterday and her absence from my life had nothing to do with my book. And then, best of all, I received an email from a reader this morning saying that she loved the book and suggesting that celebrations are in order.

So, at the moment, I believe myself to be in remission and capable of functioning in the real world. But in the interest of research and finding a cure, I’d like to collect data on the experiences of other writers who have suffered from this curious malady. Unless, of course, nobody else has ever been afflicted, in which case I am seriously deranged and will check into a treatment facility forthwith.

I am here to proclaim (in a very loud voice from the rooftop) that Revision Number Four of Swimming North is DONE!

In fact, I finished it on Friday night, and spent much of yesterday and this morning reading through the manuscript. There are things that still need work – I see some disconnects and inconsistencies, some character problems, some patches of rough writing. But the plot line as a whole looks good, there are some moments that I love.

Revision awaits. But revising, compared to rewriting, is easy. In fact, I love revising. This is where I get to make my characters come fully alive, polish the writing, make the words sing.

That said, I’m getting down off of the roof. It’s steep, slippery, and made of tin. I can think of other places where I’d be much more comfortable.

Happy writing everybody.

Confession of the day: I am a coward.

Yep, it’s true. I fear many bizarre and small things in my life, including telephones and talking to people I don’t know. Considering that I’ve chosen a job which glues me to a phone and requires me to walk into jails, hospitals, and private homes, where I converse with cops and corrections officers, inmates, doctors, nurses, and people from every possible walk of life, you might think I’d learned to confront all of my fears and that I practice the Art of Courage.

You would be wrong – at least when it comes to writing.

Here I am, at the brink of completing this draft of Swimming North. I’ve been wobbling on this brink for two days now. In fact, I’m considering ordering in a lawn chair, a good book, and a case of beer. Maybe I could just sit here until I die. The view isn’t half bad, and I have my memories of the trip to sustain me. Of course, it’s an uncomfortable location in which to spend the rest of my life; rather precarious – a strong wind or a misplaced lawn chair leg could send me hurtling into the depths.

I can’t go backward; it’s too late for that. And if I move forward, one of two things is going to happen: I’m either going to discover that I have wings, or I’m going to crash on the rocks below. They are jagged, pointy rocks. I’ve survived that crash once or twice, but vital things were broken and I really don’t care to do it again.  I dream that maybe I’ve earned my wings this time, but I’m not certain, and as long as I hesitate here, on the edge of life as I know it, I can dream and imagine and avoid reality.

Okay. It’s a metaphor, and it’s over dramatic. Failure isn’t going to kill me. The bald facts are these: I’ve written almost to the end of Swimming North, The Fourth Re-write. And once I finish it, it will be time to look back over the manuscript and ask myself those very difficult questions. Will it work this time? Can I consider it the last of the rewrites and move on to the relative simplicity of revision and editing? Or have I failed, again, in even coming close to writing what I set out to do? If I’ve failed at that, have I succeeded in writing something else that is worth a damn? I tell myself that I will NOT rewrite this manuscript one more time, but my entire genetic code refuses to let me walk away.

What genetic code is that, you ask? The Norwegian Viking Code, that’s what. Viking warriors were shamed if they survived and their leader died. They fought until the bitter end, preferring death on the battle field to the life of shame they would lead if –

There I go again into the melodrama.  And while blogging is a Worthy and Important Activity, it is also a Means of Procrastination and Delay. I am off to take the plunge and see what happens. If I don’t come back – send all the King’s horses, and all the King’s men. I might just be in need of them.


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