Today’s release of The Year of Dan Palace is, as suggested in the post title, much more than a confirmation of a finished task.
[But first: To celebrate – because this book in particular earned the celebration (reason below) – the Kindle edition will sell for $0.99 today only (Nov. 22), until midnight. The paperback is also available at the unusual sale price of $13.46 vs. the original $14.95.]
Once upon a time, I was one of those people who wrote because it was fun, challenging, exciting, and gratifying simply to create. I could spend full days on it, so engrossed I’d forget to eat. There were times I didn’t notice night falling until I finally looked away from the computer screen and realized my apartment (used as a model for April’s apartment in YoDP, for lovers of trivia) was black.
But when I started writing The Year of Dan Palace – this was five years ago – I’d recently signed with an agent who, as agents should be, was concerned with whether the book would find a home with a publisher. It was made very clear to me that I should have the same concerns.
As I worked on it through much of 2009, then, every creative impulse I had was met with self-doubt. I was wrestling (in a dark, dark place) with what I wanted the story and writing to be vs. what the agent said it “should” be to appeal to editors.
Every page, every line, I wondered, “Would an editor approve of this?” “What would an editor think of this scene? Is it creative enough? Too creative? Should I throw in a squirrel? The editors in the movie Funny Farm went nuts over that squirrel book.”
Once you start writing, it is fatal to think about anything but the writing. True work is done for the sake of doing it. What is to be done with it afterwards is another matter, another job. – Ursula K. Le Guin
I put it away after finishing it, not feeling at all celebratory and hating the damn thing. (For the feelings associated with it, not for the story.) If writing to editors was what an agent was going to insist on, if everything I wrote had to keep in mind, “What would an editor say is ‘marketable’?”, I wasn’t sure I wanted to write, anymore.
So I gave it up. Not only because I didn’t want to be that kind of writer, but because every ounce of writing confidence I’d once had was gone. And writing was the only thing I’d ever been truly confident about.
It was a devastating place to be. Eliminating creative writing from my life as a goal, a passion, was like walking around without intestines. For most of my life, writing had been the only thing I’d ever wanted to do.
Because I hated the idea of wasting a whole book (it’s just not practical, really), I gave The Year of Dan Palace half-hearted edits now and then, but it took almost five years to be able to pick it up for real and deal with it without the old negativity and angst attached to it. During that period of not writing, I would prod at myself with reminders that writing didn’t have to have anything to do with publishing houses and agents (and a desire to land them). It could really just be about the writing. (It can, it can, it can, I told myself.)
Seems like it should have been a simple realization, but it wasn’t.
I don’t remember the moment – it was probably more of a process than a moment – but finally, it stuck.
With the daydreamy passion gloriously returned, I could look at The Year of Dan Palace, at last, my own way and turn it into something I not only didn’t hate, anymore, but truly liked. And while I hope with all my heart that I’ve put something out there readers will enjoy, too (that’s the point, after all), the real success, what I really liked about it beyond the story was that I could write it as a writer interested in the characters and their needs, conflicts, and idiosyncrasies, and not as a hopeful Traditionally Published Author writing to an agent demanding I write to an editor.
In The Year of Dan Palace, one of Dan’s primary struggles, not surprisingly, is with his desire for inner peace. Funny how the subconscious mind works. It took years after printing that first copy, but with the return of creative freedom, I found the inner peace “Dan” wanted (sorry, guy).
So, today’s release of this particular book isn’t about a completed project. It’s a celebration of a spiritual triumph. (Pardon my drama.)
tl;dr: Writing is so much more fun when it’s fun.
Celebration today-only $0.99 Kindle edition
Paperback at odd sale price
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of the novels The Age of the Child, The Year of Dan Palace, and Pretty Much True, Dr. Owen W. Gilman, Jr.’s “American War Literature and Film: Vietnam to Now” 2012 course curriculum selection. Kristen’s interview series at JaneFriedman.com offers behind-the-scenes insights into all things writing and publishing.