Why I Stopped Revising My First Novel

RTTMH.BOver a 35-years span, Roobala Take Me Home was rewritten, revised, reworked, and partly re-imagined so many times that I’ve lost count. Despite my best efforts to stay current and true to my ever developing self, Roobala Take Me Home inevitably, like all novels, turned into a historical document.

Even “historical” novels are rooted in the imagination of the writer looking back. A historian from 1980 looking back at 1900 has a different perspective than the historian from 2000 looking back at the same year. And 2014 predictions about 2050 will eventually recede into the past and will likely become part of a collective joke – “Look how silly and misinformed we were!”

When I wrote the first draft of Roobala Take Me Home using an ink pen, yellow legal pads, and manual typewriter, predictions were flourishing about how the personal computer was going to save us all so much time that we’d only have to work 20 hours per week.

The Scribner’s Publishing Company, the one existing in1980, was mildly interested in publishing Roobala. “Many moments are beautiful, witty, and surprising, and the entire work is permeated with a curious nostalgia that I found very touching.” The irony of “curious nostalgia” in a young man’s futuristic space fantasy novel still, to this day, propels me forward and backward, and renders me mentally convulsive. Whether those “surprising” moments remain so today, at this moment, is uncertain. (Why don’t you go and find out?) And what about tomorrow?

What novelist has not, at some point, secretly worried that all their work suddenly becomes irrelevant because aliens arrived? Never occurs to them that it was irrelevant to begin with. Nevertheless, it’s hard to sustain belief in your cutting edge prose after a planet-altering event. Sort of messes up your suspense. Think of the revision needed to stay current. Your “almost finished” suspense novel becomes a cozy pastoral period piece. You give up. Of course. Because you are sane. You really are.

A thousand years from now, when your work is discovered in a pile of electronic rubble, you may be recognized as an unknown author and your imaginative moments may become one of the many historical markers of our collective imaginations. So that’s something. Be happy.

Occasionally, I feel like an ideologue after the system has collapsed. My writing becomes the rambling of someone receding rapidly into the past, tortured words twisting in the wind, struggling to remain relevant, while relying too heavily on alliteration. But when was I ever relevant? So nothing lost. No big deal.

In this speeded up age when everything changes from one millisecond to the next, when words “typed” yesterday become obsolete next week, I must quit revising my symbolically futuristic, comical space-western novel Roobala Take Me Home. I will no longer revise Roobala! I’m finished! There is no point in trying to go back and revise what has already been rewritten endlessly – more important to write in the moment – to stay alive, fixated forever on the next word. (Unless of course someone pays me lots of Roobalas.)

Inevitably, a setting in the future becomes obsolete when the future arrives; therefore, I make no claim to relevance. Roobala Take Me Home is however a more or less precise imaginative work of a twenty-five year old writer, and a writer in his thirties, forties, and fifties. Now I am sixty and, in this note, I am trying to make sense of my younger self who made bad decisions and who wasted so much time trying to capture time.

Perhaps young writers will read this and say, “Well that was bizarre; I hope I never make that mistake.”

JPM 2014

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