And the manuscript is… off!


The bits are zipping through the internet to Riverhead, my publisher, as I write this. That feels good.

I can’t wait to get my editor’s reactions.

So it took me one year (of writing part-time, since I never took a book leave) from the proposal to the first draft, and another four months to finish this second draft. I went about it rather as Khaled Hosseini does: one run through to have a working blueprint, then another to add the beauty.

Allow me to indulge for one moment in a short meditation on success. The book is about success and failure and how each constantly wants to turn into the other, so this is appropriate.

When I started writing, I defined for myself two layers of success: In the first layer, I would simply write exactly the book that had conceived in my head, a book that I would be proud of. I’m really happy to say that this is how it turned out. So I’ve succeeded.

The second layer is conventional success–ie, good reviews and sales. That, obviously, is something over which I have absolutely no control once I bid my manuscript adieu. So I have decided, for the time being, not to worry about it.

Zen Anecdote

Which reminds me of a story that a professor of Japanese history once told me in college, long ago. He was visiting a Japanese artist and walking around the artist’s house, admiring the paintings. The professor stopped before one and said ‘Why, this one is just stunning!’

The Japanese artist said ‘Thank You’, then took the painting off the wall and tore it to shreds.

Had this guy gone nuts? the professor asked rhetorically years later when he told me about this. No! For this artist, Zen-inspired, painting was something that he did for its own sake. He was not being rude or weird by ripping it up. He was simply showing, or reminding himself, that the praise of others was not necessary, that the painting had already brought him all the joy it could, and that he was now detached from it.

Don’t get ideas. Nobody gets to rip up my manuscript. But I like the story.

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11 thoughts on “And the manuscript is… off!

  1. I feel sure your publisher will like what you’ve sent, and will scarcely have to edit it. This leaves the title, about which, as you’ve said, you’ve made no decision.

    I surmise it’ll be paradoxical, as was the title of that quite famous sociological treatise of the 1950s, “The Lonely Crowd”. But, how about something alliterative, or semi-alliterative, like, “To Hell and Back With Hannibal”?

    What with those films with Anthony Hopkins, the name “Hannibal” is current common currency, so “Hannibal” somewhere in your book’s title might sell.

    On the other hand, it might not.

  2. J.R.R. Tolkien rode the bus to London with his entire manuscript for the Lord of The Rings in his hands. Can you imagine? I remember when digital media seemed risky. The thought of having a single hard copy is frightening. (Tollers, a nominee for great story teller, but not necessarily a great writer).

    I have spent many hours contemplating the value of my work. When I spend an entire day making something only to have it break, did I ‘waste’ my time? I suppose I did, if I was trying to make something that was break-proof. It feels like ripping up a painting.

  3. Did your Zen practice help you maintain the discipline it took to meet your deadlines?

    Your subject is part of your process, here, isn’t it?

    I hope you will share your own experience with success as your story unfolds.

    Being a tiny part of this experience has been great fun.

  4. Jon, no unusual software at all. Boring old MS Word on a Mac (in compatibility mode).
    For my other docs I use Google Docs. But I have a lot of endnotes, and Google Docs didn’t support that last time I checked.
    In general, writing (words) is not a cutting-edge activity in terms of tech.

    Cheri, I’ll keep you abreast of both Impostors (triumph and disaster) as they unfold. 😉
    Regarding my “Zen practice”: It’s more of a Platonic ideal. I myself am anything but Zen.

  5. Andreas,

    Belated congratulations!

    What a relief for you. At least, it sounds like one to me, as I push forward on a mere proposal.

    And I think it’s very wise, if not Zen, to write a manuscript, which is hard to tear into shreds. If I were your professor, I would’ve clocked the artist. If he didn’t want the painting, he could’ve given it to someone who had not yet finished enjoying it.


  6. it’s on an emerging trend in innovation, fueled by globalization. I’ll describe it for the moment as a less frightening version of “The World Is Flat.” I need to reread WIF before I stick with that, though.

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