Friday, November 27, 2009

Hallinan on "The Unfinish Line"

Over at The Blog Cabin, Timothy Hallinan (author of Breathing Water) ponders what to do when you reach the end of a project -- and realize you're nowhere near done. Excerpts:

I am at a juncture in the writing process that I don't read about often -- the point where you've actually written the last words of your novel, you've wrapped up the story and brought home all the characters who are coming home, and you know there are one hundred twelve thousand things wrong with the book. That's something a writer can live with, because it just requires 112,000 fixes. The real killjoy is the doubt, looming like a thick, cold fog, that the whole thing doesn't add up to a weed salad.

What does a writer in this position do?
Read the whole thing. Hallinan gives the only answer there could possibly be ("What this one does is fix the 112,000 things that are wrong") and proceeds to detail exactly how he moves past the unfinished state. I found his reflections immensely heartening, because the first few times I ran into this conundrum it almost cured me of the writing bug. Hallinan's suggestions of keeping a running journal of all the potential speedbumps and methodically going page by page through your finished manuscript are useful. But so is the reminder that this is just something writers will have to deal with. We aren't God. We don't speak stories out of nothing. They take reworking and revision, effort and angst, pain and prodding.

(Picture: CC 2008 by


Timothy Hallinan said...

Wow, Loren -- glad you found it helpful. For what it's worth, last night at 9 PM I finished the 112,000th mistake and realized that I'd managed to strengthen some of the weakest stuff in the book, not by going all metaphysical on it, but by working with details.

I actually think you can make a case for details being the most important elements in writing. Almost everything seems to rise out of them.

Now it's off to my agent (a former editor) and, then, to my actual editor. Will they like it? I have no idea. But I'm at the point where I'm ready to let the baby toddle out into the world and hope nobody takes a jackhammer to it.

Thanks for noticing the piece.


Loren Eaton said...

Thank you for writing it, Tim! A regular frustration of mine is that there are so few resources for we neophytes that come down out of the clouds and get into the nitty gritty. Your post did just that.

Also, congrats on the completion. Here's to hoping for a warm reception (and no jackhammers) for the book.