As I write, I am surrounded by sections of the next Parker novel, The Unquiet, as yesterday I commenced printing the book off prior to sending it out to my editors and my agent later this week.
I think I've said in the past that I have mixed feelings about this part of the process. I never print off the book until it is due to be sent out because, as soon as I do so, my mind starts moving on to the next project. While a book remains on my computer it is fluid, capable of change, open to improvement and adjustment, but once I start printing it off I begin to draw a line under the writing. The act of printing is an admission that the book is, to a large degree, finished.
True, my editors, and my agent, may suggest small changes, and I will always try to incorporate those suggestions into the book, but I will find it harder to make those changes now that the novel has assumed a physical form. It is like a building that has previously only existed in the mind and plans of an architect, and suddenly it starts to become a thing of bricks and mortar, of windows and doors and ceilings. At that point, the architect's part in the building's construction is largely done, and whatever changes he might make to his original vision will ultimately be rather cosmetic, unless he is forced to raze the whole structure and begin again.
It usually takes a couple of days to print off the book, largely because I view it as my final chance to make alterations and to correct as many small mistakes as I can. It's useful to do it in as concentrated a burst of activity as possible, as it forces me to keep the details of the book fresh in my head. (When did Daniel Clay disappear? Was it September or October, 1999? How many days have passed since Frank Merrick's ultimatum to Parker?) It also enables me to spot repetitions, and those little tics that seem to inhabit every book, the words that I overuse and that need to be pruned back in favor of others.
There is also a hint of regret, though. While it is satisfying, at last, to print off something that has existed only in my mind, and then on screen, for the best part of two years, that satisfaction is tempered by the fact that another imperfect book is about to see the light of day. I always feel that another draft would help it, that another re-write might help to make those imperfections less obvious. But even if I were to be given that time, then I would just seek a few more days on top of it again, because there will always be the urge to revise the book once more in the belief that every revision makes the book fundamentally better. In the end, though, I know I would be making the kinds of changes that only ants would notice, and 'changes' is the operative word: changing something does not automatically make it better, only different.
Usually, too, I would take a couple of days off once the book has been couriered to London and New York, but not this time. I have the publicity for The Book of Lost Things to which to attend, and I will not be seeing much of the inside of my house for many weeks. This, too, means that the urge to hold on to The Unquiet has to be resisted. If my editors do not get it this week, then it will be November before I have a chance to start printing it off again, and that will be too late to make the publication date that has been set. Events have conspired to take the book out of my hands, and perhaps that is for the best.
Now, too, I have to start thinking in earnest about the next book. I no longer have the excuse that I am still writing this one. The Unquiet is done, and before the year is out I will have started a new project. And I think I may even know what that might be . . .
This week John read
The Religion by Tim Willocks (still haven't finished it, and have now been fatally distracted from it by the necessity of writing a review of Christina Falls by Benjamin Black, a.k.a. John Banville)
and listened to
Revelations by Audioslave
El Perro Del Mar by El Perro Del Mar