I wrote a novel a couple of years ago. It’s a young man’s novel; full of drinking and bitterness and hatred. The writing is sloppy in many places, and the characters are all facsimiles of either myself or real people I knew. I hammered the whole thing out in a couple of months that were bleak by all standards. The only silver lining of that whole chapter of my life is that I managed to actually complete this novel. It was solid proof that I actually could accomplish something like that. Everything else was shit, but who cared? I wrote a fucking novel, on an old Smith-Corona no less, and only fuelled by coffee, cigarettes, self-loathing, and whiskey, a.k.a: good stuff to be fuelled by when being a young man writing a novel.
I typed up a title page, called the whole thing “Going to California” after a Led Zeppelin song, and sat back and felt those warm feelings that accompany actually finishing something. Even though there was still editing, and re-writing, and re-formulating, and all that other writerly jazz to accomplish, I still felt like the whole thing was finished.
A couple months later, exiled out of BC to the basement of my parent’s house in Alberta, I decided to head back into the novel for all of those terrifying re-writes I had put off while I was out feeling good about myself. I dug the typewritten manuscript I had dragged all across the province and sat down to re-type the thing onto a computer, figuring that I would just edit as I typed. My ex-girlfriend of the time had already made significant editing marks on the first half of the novel, so those would all get chucked into the new computer draft as well.
It was messy. I uncovered all those problems that I outlined above and more. But I soldiered on and typed along. Meanwhile, my personal life got worse, and work on the novel again ground to a halt while I lived certain parts of it over and over again. I still thought about sitting down to edit it all the time, thought about getting it published, thought about all of the accolades that I would be given once it became the biggest novel of all time.
I didn’t write or edit anything, but I patted myself on the back as if I had.
Fast forward ahead a couple more months. Sometime in October if my memory doesn’t fail me. I start a re-write of the novel that fixes huge swathes of problems. I was merciless in my elimination of bullshit. I didn’t even use the original text for most of it, just forged ahead with new words. I dropped characters and plot-lines (what few plot lines there actually was.) and re-shaped the whole arc of the novel up until the last half. It was twice the work it began as. The ex-girlfriend edits (as they would be known when the novel became famous) had done a world of good in calling out terrible writing crimes that I had committed in the important parts of the novel, and now that they were stricken from the text, the whole thing was less a cathartic work of release, less of a point to prove, less therapy, and more of a piece of writing.
Life got in the way again, and the third edit sat unfinished. It still sits unfinished now. I can’t finish it.
It’s been almost three years since I started writing “Going to California.” In that time, I have grown so much as a person, gone through a couple dark nights of the soul, and have come out the other end as not the person I started as. That person I left behind? He’s an asshole. He’s selfish and he drinks too much. He’s so far up his own ass, that it’s a wonder anyone remained around him. I don’t want to go back to being that person. I’m not that person anymore.
However, that person wrote the fucking novel. He wrote the novel on bottles of Jameson, relationships shattered by his lies, Miles Davis, and a fed up attitude with everything.
My life isn’t that way anymore. I wouldn’t want it to be. For that reason, I have decided to retire the novel I spent three years writing and working on. That ex-girlfriend editor is now my girlfriend again, and I’m happier with her than I’ve ever been. It’s time to let that part of my life go into the ether for awhile. I’m not abandoning the whole novel completely, it’s still full of great ideas, and some of the writing is solid. We just need some space, like, 10 years of space.
Sometimes you just need to let things go.