Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Last Lap

     I set out to write a short romance, something like my popular Love in the Time of Cinema. I had my Marquee characters. I had my setting – Onteora County, New York; where else? I even had a plot line, and I had solemnly sworn to follow it faithfully. I looked forward to a quick development and an early summer release.

     Then I started having ideas.

     I don’t recall who, but some chess grandmaster long dead once quipped that “When you don’t know what to do, wait for your opponent to get an idea – it’s sure to be wrong!” He might not have been serious...but he spoke the truth. Ideas, you see, are dangerous. Yes, they’re useful as well – sometimes. But an idea that tempts you to rip up several months of work and redo it completely should be regarded with maximum skepticism.

     I tend to get ideas of that sort, ironically enough, when I’ve reached the point from which I’m able to see the goal I’ve sought. One such idea caused me to delay the completion of a novel by several years. Please don’t ask which one; the answer would do you no good and might even upset you. The experience taught me to do something I’d long known about in another context:

     Write it down and go back to what you were doing.

     The “plains of hesitation” quote above is a good one. When the finish line is in sight, don’t pause for a quick change of costume. Don’t stop to contemplate the beauty of the tableau. Don’t call your companions together for a pre-celebration. Cross it. As the Philosopher-King of the Bronx once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

     And watch out for the ideas. When you’ve begun the last lap of the journey, they become almost certainly destructive: Satan whispering in your ear. If you’d like to save an idea for later consideration, write it down. Have a pen and notebook handy for the purpose. (In my experience, ideas you don’t intend to use at once are better saved on paper than in your computer. Writing them down gives them a serious feel. Besides, you could easily misplace a short digital document. It’s happened to me often enough.)

     This most recent intrusion of an idea stopped me for a while. It was seductive in that it was quasi-relevant to the tale I was writing and was connected to other things I’d intended to write...other ideas. And it very nearly derailed me from my romance-under-construction.

     A confession: I did use part of it. And it has cost me some time and effort in backtracking through my manuscript, shoring up passages here and there to provide the required support. I don’t think it’s ruined the tale, though it has compelled me to think of the novel as something other than a pure romance. The readers, whoever and how many they prove to be, will get the last word on that.

     But do watch out for those ideas.

     (Cross-posted at my fiction-promotion site.)

No comments: