Why should writers’ blogs, including my own, continue to spout, in glorious marketing-ese dialect, a sort of Chamber of Commerce civic boosterism about our stunning writing careers and our usually boring buy-my-book blurbs? Why should I post as if everything I’ve written should be considered, whether anyone including me believes it or not, as a potentially life-changing, culture-altering bestseller? Most writers don’t blog about their failed novels or raise doubts about whether problematic works in progress are worth publishing, as if the very difficulty inherent in experimenting with a novel idea, in composing fiction, will later affect its market value. But maybe it’s time to discuss three novels that have given me a lot of trouble even as they’ve compelled me to keep turning back to them.
I touched on this theme in a 2012 blog post, How Do you Deal With Your Backlog? While I still don’t want to push old crap out into the world just because I’m emotionally attached to my work and happen to know how easy it is to self-publish it on a variety of platforms, I do have three legacy novels I want to continue to work on. I’m defining a “legacy novel” as a past work, out of date in many ways but which still has psychic reverberation demanding attention. I would publish these novels unless they fail the test of one last clear-eyed revision, in which case I’ll know to shelve them as writing exercises.
I had this experience once before with a twenty-five-year-old novel I rewrote in 2009, The University of Mars. But after doing a decent and actually fun revamp on it and then garnering seven rejections, I finally took a sober look at this book and realized I had to consider it a not-to-be published exercise. That novel is what I had in mind in the February 2012 blog post:
… but a new consideration arose: suppose I did get one of these “not quite my best” novels published? And what if it were available on Barnes and Noble and amazon.com right next to my best work? Suppose someone bought a “not quite” and justifiably wrote me off as low quality and never saw the good stuff? In shock I realized that trying to push out something not quite right is actually a pollution of your writing life.
I have three legacy novels in different stages of development, but I want to be mindful of that 2012 post’s warning. I even said then that I had no qualms about publishing Sortmind or Akard Drearstone, but I’ve seen since that those two need a lot of work to function as modern consciousness.