I'm not Jon Acuff, but I can tell you that there comes a time to "quit."
Wow! The title of this post feels weird. Of course, I chose the title because it sounds ominous, akin to the header of a literary suicide note that ends with "goodbye, cruel writing world." Well, you can rest assured that this is nothing of the sort. Yeah, I know it's been six months since my last post. I've been busy starting up a publishing company, for crying out loud!
Jeez, back off!
Realistically, that's not an excuse, but rather an informative explanation. I could have kept you, faithful reader (maybe even "readers?"), in the loop, after all. That would have been the proper thing to do.
So, hey! Guess what? I'm writing again, albeit on a limited basis. Let's just say that whenever I can find the time, I'm opening up one of my four manuscripts in development and punching a key or two on my keyboard. It's gratifying, even if I can only write five hundred words at a time. Each precious word is a brick, a cog, a critical piece of the machine that will eventually be a finished manuscript.
Last week, T. Marcus Christian, one of the authors over at eLectio Publishing (that's my publishing company by the way), wrote a blog post about "editing." It's really good; you should check it out. One of the many great points he makes is about knowing when a manuscript is finished. And while he comes up with a couple of good rules about "knowing when to call it quits," I think the number of ways to discern if a manuscript is ready are as varied as the number of writers on the planet.
I am your father. No you're not! Shut up! No, you!
I'm a geek. Okay? Do we have that out of the way?
While I was only a year old when the first Star Wars movie came out (I know you're doing the math), by the time The Empire Strikes Back was released, my wonderful parents saw fit to tote me along (as a four year old) to the theater to witness the shocking revelation that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father. Truth be told, in my four-year-old brain, I thought such a notion was ridiculous. Darth Vader was a robot, right? I wasn't quite able to wrap my head around cyborgs yet.
In fact, I remember having a pretty heated exchange with a friend at Sunday School the following Sunday. I mean, how could he be so stupid as to believe that nefarious galactic super-villain? That Vader guy just oozed deception, didn't he?
[SPOILER ALERT...Oh, who am I kidding?] Yeah, well, turns out I was wrong. By the time Return of the Jedi came around and all was revealed, my Sunday-School-spat was long forgotten, and I had tacked on another three years to my age. I had pretty much resigned myself to Darth Vader being Daddy Skywalker.
That was okay. The movie was great. It ended beautifully.
And so came the end of one of the most sweeping sci-fi epics the world had ever seen.
Or so I thought.
It was a menace, all right.
I was in graduate school in Columbia, Missouri, in 1999 when The Phantom Menace came out. I approached the whole idea of a prequel trilogy with all the skepticism that it deserved (and it did deserve some skepticism, didn't it?).
Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier, I'm a geek. I stood in line for a midnight showing on the day it came out, accompanied by some buddies of mine from the Chemistry Department. After many endless rounds of cribbage on the sidewalk in front of the theater, midnight arrived. We filed into the theater and then we sat for what seemed like an eternity, trying to digest the garbage that someone decided to pass off as an entry in the Star Wars universe.
Now, I know I'm going to get a load of flak for this, so just chill out. I'm not insulting your mother. (Unless your mother is Jar Jar Binks. In that case, I'm totally insulting your mother.)
The Phantom Menace blew. I mean it blew hard. From the ridiculously precocious future Darth Vader to the insipid Jar Jar Binks, not even the presence of heavy-hitters like Ewan MacGregor, Liam Neeson, and Natalie Portman (rising star that she was) could rescue the movie from its own absurdity. The whole Star Wars universe became a caricature of itself.
It became clear to me that George Lucas should have just left well enough alone. The original trilogy, while not necessarily profound, was a work of sci-fi genius that had sparked decades of discussions, musings, wonderings, and daydreams of the multitudes of fans.
While it is true that the further installments were certainly better than The Phantom Menace, nothing could quite pull the prequel trilogy out of the mire.
And for me, that eternally tainted the whole Star Wars franchise.
"Zephyr Hopkins. I am your father!" No, seriously.
So why on earth am I talking about Star Wars in a post that at least seems to be about editing. Well, here's the thing: one of the most difficult things for me to do is decide when I've got a completed manuscript. And for me, there's no hard and fast rule. My best-selling short story, Rumspringa, was complete (from first word of first draft to final "SAVE" of the submitted draft) in just over four hours. Another short story I wrote floundered for nearly two years before I was finished with it.
All that to say, for me, completion is a "feeling" above all else. Perhaps even a "whisper from the heavens." Who knows? All I can say is that whether it is the first revision or the eleventh, at some point, I look at the manuscript, and I get this intangible this-seems-about-right kind of feeling.
So it is with my upcoming release, a novella titled The Perdition of Zephyr Hopkins. I completed the first draft in March of last year. I went back through it shortly thereafter and made sure all the events were congruent from start to finish (inconsistencies drive me nuts). And then it sat for about four months. I shared it with a few trusted folks. They loved it. Then I let it sit for another four months.
In the midst of my busy-ness with eLectio Publishing, a few weeks ago, I felt the irresistible draw back to Zephyr and his messed up life (we're talking really messed up). It beckoned to me, as if to say, "Hey, man! I'm almost done over here. So, why don't you just invest an hour a day for a couple of weeks and shine me up?"
And that's what I did. The result is a few thousand more words, a few gaps filled in, and a very tight story about a man who can't seem to stop making horrifying choices. When you read it (and you will, won't you?), you might find yourself feeling sad for Zephyr. It might make you angry with him. You might feel sorry for the poor fool. I feel all of those things as I read and re-read.
But I can feel it coming. I can imagine it now. In the next few days, Zephyr's going to look up at me from the pages that hold his oppressive circumstances, and say, "Hey, buddy. I think it's time. Let's do this."
And I will. I'll put Zephyr to bed. Or, rather, unleash him on the world.
I'll quit and move on to the next thing.
Oh, George Lucas. If only you had quit and moved on to something else.
My inner seven-year-old wouldn't have died a little bit that day in 1999. I have a feeling he's going to suffer even greater tragedy ahead.
JESSE S. GREEVER is "The Accidental Author" and CEO of eLectio Publishing, a digital publisher for Christian authors.
Greever is also a co-author of the book, Learning to Give in a Getting World, and numerous fiction titles from Untreed Reads publishing.
His first fiction novella, The Perdition of Zephyr Hopkins, will be released as a self-published eBook in late January 2013.
You can become a fan of Jesse on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JesseSGreever or follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JesseSGreever