It was a hectic holiday period and now suddenly things are crazy quiet in the house. I’m probably unwinding, or maybe winding up in anticipation of the Hamline residency that begins on Thursday. Whatever the reason, last night I had a terrible time falling asleep. None of the books in my current reading stack caught my interest so I browsed the book shelves, finally pulling out Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch. I bought this a couple of years ago, intrigued by the reviews and all the stuff splashed on the cover. I could never get into it, however. I tried twice, with several months separating the attempts, then shelved it.
While some books just get sent back to the library or dumped into the library sale bin, I’ve developed a rule for other ones that I feel I should like because people I trust tell me I should or because I’ve liked something else the author wrote or because the critical acclaim is just too loud to ignore. The rule is: Three strikes and … wait a decade. This rule was developed for Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. I tried three times at decent intervals, then set it aside. After a decade I spotted it still sitting on the shelf and gave it another whirl. Still no go, but I figured that was a fair shot and I need never bother again. Off it went to the library sale bin. A couple of books are now waiting for their decade to pass: Orhan Palmuk’s Snow and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. And yes, I actually have the date penciled inside the cover of each one.
So last night was the third try for The Night Watch. And whadyya know, I sat up until three reading happily. No wait-a-decade sentence for this one.
I think the same sort of rule is now in effect for a couple of manuscripts I’ve been working on, at least the three strikes part. I’m about to put to rest for an unspecified time a manuscript that has twice been the focus of my attention, time, heart and soul, but nevertheless didn’t quite get to where it needs to go. And I’m eyeing hungrily another one that’s been waiting for my return. Maybe I’ve just developed writer’s ADD. Maybe I’ve succumbed to the Grass is Greener trap that catches many a discouraged writer. And maybe right now I’d just rather write about winter in northern Wisconsin than summer in Minneapolis. Which is just plain nuts, but there you go.