Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Foolish Dreams

A $25 cheque launched me. A published writer, I was on the way to fame and fortune.

As publishing credits slowly accumulated my first book went through 40+ rewrites. Every time I learned something new in those early years I reworked the manuscript start to finish. The math alone, that is now condensed to a brief appendix and a few paragraphs scattered through the manuscript, consumed hundreds of hours. I was more addicted to the EAGLE than the main character in the book. It took 32 pages of calculations to plot the first 90 seconds of flight.

Foolish? Undoubtedly. A waste of time? I’ll dare say no. I’ve read more than enough books where I know the subject matter better than the author. Books lose credibility very fast if basic principals of physics are ignored. Because I’ve done the math I know the EAGLE cannot do the loops and flips I dreamed of. Because I’ve done the math I know how painfully slow it accelerates. I know it flies like a bloated whale and never, ever flattens you into the back of your seat. That doesn’t limit my imagination so much as focus it, for the same weight that makes the EAGLE so cumbersome in the air allows it to submerge. Named and modeled after the Eagle Ray, it is in fact a submarine that can just manage to take to the air for brief periods.

I’ve done my homework and the math actually works. Except for the power-plant, the EAGLE uses off-the-shelf technology and elementary physics. It’s not out-of-this-world fiction. In theory at least it is entirely possible.

Foolishness? I won’t argue the point. Thousands of hours have gone into the book. Whole sections, multiple chapters have been written and discarded.

The manuscript reached a certain level of quality, for it was short-listed in 2003 when the first Best New Canadian Author award was launched. I thought it was pretty good at the time, and I confess that I hoped desperately to win.

I have learned so much since. I have been working on the manuscript again. “The story grips my imagination. But the writing doesn’t quite shine.” That’s probably the core of a review I might write if it was another author’s work.

So much time invested and I’m not sure it will ever see publication. A foolish dream perhaps. I think most first novels are. But is there any better way to learn to write a book than by actually sitting down and writing a book? Is there any better way to hone the craft of writing than by putting in the hours, getting words on paper or into a computer file – and then getting feedback – those painful critiques or “Thank you for submitting, but. . .” responses?

I don’t regret the hours invested. It has not been wasted time. I cut my writing teeth on that manuscript. I come to it now with so much more skill as a writer that the weaknesses are painfully obvious. Unfortunately obvious does not mean easily fixed. I’m not at all sorry the book wasn’t published in its earlier form.

Foolish dreams? I’d dare say that is part of every writer’s life. But I’ll keep dreaming.

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