In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.
– Junot Diaz
For many years, I went down to my hometown of Terra Bella for the annual San Esteban Dance and festivities, which was held on Labor Day Weekend. David joined me, and then when the kids were born, going down there became one of our family traditions. San Esteban was the hometown of my father and many of his cousins who came to the United States from the Philippines in the 1920s, and relatives up and down California and even from Hawaii and Illinois would gather in our dusty little town to celebrate being a part of the social club that formed in 1955.
When my cousin Janet married her husband Tim, 13 years ago in the central coastal town of Cambria, we added another tradition. David made a gourmet dinner to celebrate their anniversary on the Saturday evening of the long weekend when we came into town and stayed with them. We had been doing this for many years until last year, the first year after my mother’s passing away, when we decided to meet in Cambria for the long weekend and stay in a hostel. The highlight of that trip was kayaking in Morro Bay and watching a family of dolphins boldly play in the bay, with one breaching right in front of our kayak.
We planned to repeat the trip to Cambria, but we ended up adjusting to having Janet and Tim come visit us in the Bay Area. Family matters made us change course once again. This time, we were going to be staying put at home – something we haven’t done in years. While I was at first dismayed by the break in tradition, I also had a mission to accomplish in the month of September, and now I had an entire three days to make tremendous strides toward my goal.
I wanted to revise my novel one last time over the summer but never got around to it. Work is starting to heat up this fall and I’ll be traveling again for business. But I’m determined to make good on finally finishing my novel this year. My college professor from Davis read my manuscript earlier this year and while he found much to admire, his main criticism was in the novel’s pacing. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant until I dove headlong into the manuscript. After spending the last couple of days in an intense writer’s retreat, I understand what he means and I am fixing the problem in earnest.
I must have spent 12 hours revising one chapter on Saturday, but I did so in a state of rapture and with a singular focus on technical precision. Wearing sweats, not showering all day, not knowing what the rest of the house looked like, not knowing what David and the kids were doing or not doing, and not caring, I was fully living in the world of my characters. I was refining their voices and making clearer the landscape in which they roamed. I was exquisitely enraptured. This is what it’s like to be a full-time writer–if only for the Labor Day Weekend.
I am almost half-way through the last revision. When I sent out the 600-plus-page manuscript to literary agents back in 2005 and received all rejections, I bemoaned in particular one rejection in which the agent had excitedly requested the entire manuscript after the query only to say it basically didn’t fulfill her expectations. I had failed, you see. The story itself was compelling, but I did not execute on telling the story in an equally compelling way. That’s when I shut down for four years and didn’t write.
When I look back at the manuscript I sent out eight years, I am heartened because I didn’t execute then but I know I am doing so now. I am a better writer, with a clear perspective, and much-needed maturity. There is palpable power in that knowledge, in revising and replacing inadequate words, sentences, scenes with the right word, the concise sentence, the heartfelt scene, the right touch in all the right places. When I finish this final revision, I know that I can send the manuscript out into the world again with renewed faith and confidence. I’m nailing it.
I’m grateful for this Labor Day Weekend when I can call myself a writer again. Three days, a writer’s retreat (with a Friday Night girls’ night to watch a depressing French film with a good friend who happens to be French and an Oakland A’s baseball game thrown in on Monday) – is there anything more a writer can ask for? You can always ask for more full days for writing, but for now, I am grateful, I am satiated. One more day left.