Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Daze

By Steve Weddle

Today is Labor Day, the day we set aside to honour the recent contribution to letters made by Tony Blair, former prime minister of the Britains.

Hahaha. Yeah. It's the day we in the colonies set aside to let our work pile up in order to make Tuesday the Following more of a hell.

So you're not supposed to do work on Labor Day. But the Pharisees said I could work on Labor Day if I pull my ox out of the ditch.

And speaking of work and reading and writing, here's something you can help me with -- um, with which you can help me, Mr Prime Minister.

You know when you finish a novel and then lean back in your chair as you set the book aside? That perfect moment in which you savor the moment of completion? The beginning of that opportunity, that beautiful land of openness in which you can now read whatever book you want. That moment, that's what makes life worth living, isn't it? Kinda like when you started a new year at school and you had all your notebooks and you hadn't messed them up with IRON MAIDEN RULES pen-carved into the covers.

The brightness of possibility.

That's why I love reading. I can pick up someone I've never read and find out why everyone loves this writer. I can hit the latest cool thing and join in on the discussion. I can crack open some Chekov I haven't read before and find out what really happened on the Starship Enterprise.

And then, every so often, the pain comes. That awful moment when you realize the book is crap. That you like this and that, but can't stand such-and-such. And you have to decide whether it's worth it to read the book.

The first 100 pages of DRAGON TATTOO, for example.

The first day on the job, the finding where the doughnuts are kept, the fresh office supplies -- suddenly this becomes work.

What do you do then?

Whether it's reading or writing, at some point, sometimes this becomes work. Maybe it's when the publisher sends the edits back. Maybe it's book tours. Maybe it's plotting.

For readers, maybe the first thirty pages are work for you. Maybe starting a book is tough. Or maybe it's getting lost in all the characters.

When does the book -- whether reading or writing -- become work for you? Does it happen often or rarely?

For me, hand-writing ideas is never work. I like to scrawl out thoughts and characters and dialogue on paper. When it becomes work is when I have to move one scene to the next, when I have to accomplish all I wanted to. When I have to get all the little pieces to meet, like a jigsaw puzzle when I don't yet have all the pieces -- or any idea what the picture is supposed to be.

And that point when I'm reading that I force myself to get to page such-and-such. Another 20 pages and if it doesn't get better, I'm giving up.

Sometimes there's nothing better than reading and writing through the holiday. And sometimes, you know, it's like pulling an ox out of a ditch.

Bonus: Contest at NEEDLE.


David Cranmer said...

Labor Day is set aside for reading Chris F. Holms "The Hitter."

pattinase (abbott) said...

I toss both my own work and the work of others at any point I become bored. I have given up on a story after a page or two--or at twenty pages before the end. I have many stories where the ending just doesn't cut it.

Nigel Bird said...

I agree about the opening 100 of 'Dragon Tattoo' and think the author does as well. He even said so on p22 of my copy, that the story had better get started or some such. I was glad I stuck with it, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed the remainder (it's like he learned how to write as he went on). I'm also inclined to leave books now at the point of real boredome - life's way too short.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

There are a couple of books that I've read that feel like work. Most of them involved school assignments, but there have been a few "award winning" books that I read to see what the fuss was about. Yeah - a couple of those took a lot of work to get through.

For me, I always find the book I'm writing feels like work around page 100. I've gotten through the fun opening, I'm still far away from the end and I have to push for 100 pages to get to the real fun again. It's the same with every book so I no longer sweat it. I know there will be a couple of weeks of grinding through my writing and then the fun will begin again. Funny, but when I reread, those pages are often the most fun to edit. I have no idea why.

Dana King said...

I used to make myself read everything all the way through. No more. As Nigel said, life's too short.

How long until I give up? It depends. I may stick with a book for 100 pages if the writing doesn't offend me until my disinterest in the plot and characters finally does me in. Or it can be less than a chapter for certain styleless, soulless writing.

John McFetridge said...

Like many people have said, as I get older I give up on books a lot sooner than I used to. For me it's now when I get the feeling the writer is trying too hard to impress or please someone else, those slightly awkward moments that don't feel quite real.

When I'm writing there's always a point in the middle of the book when I feel it's just a mess and can't be pulled together. Often I write scenes out of order just to avoid this so that when I get to the middle I have some scenes already written to plug in at that point.

Chris Rhatigan said...

I'll give up on a story quickly when I realize the idea just doesn't work. If the core idea is good, if it sounds like an interesting story in a two-sentence description, I'll keep pressing and revising until my eyes bleed. (Though, uh, they haven't actually bled yet. I've heard that when that happens, you become a real writer.)

Steve Weddle said...

I know the feeling of being less patient with books the older you get, but I'm thinking that, for me, it gets to be kinda the opposite.

At 20, I would have given up on DRAGON TATTOO on page one. At 40, I decided to be a little more patient. Not the greatest book I've ever read, probably not in the top 100, but I'm glad to have read it.

As I get older, I'm more likely to kick back with a drink and watch the sunset, too.

But there has to be something to make me want to stay with it. Character. Plot. Setting. Mystery. Some hint of beauty, even if it's that I saw a really great sunset last week about this time and want to stick with this one as long as I can, hoping that the magic is repeated.

Anonymous said...

I do chuck a book now and then and always feel annoyed that I've had to. Sometimes it's a book that somebody else has raved about, then I feel really cheated. I always remember what I was told by a teacher, 'It's not the book that's at fault; it is you.' So I do try to struggle on but sometimes it just doesn't seem worth the effort, which is sad.

Travener said...

The Dragon Tatoo did take forever to get going (Girl Who Played with Fire is even worse) but I just kept reading until I was done.

Talk about savoring the moment. Old Larsson dropped dead proactically immediately after finishing the triology and delivering the manuscripts--three of them!