From The New York Times:
Novelists do all kinds of things as they wait for their books to be published, from imagining unforeseen commercial success to imagining unforeseen commercial success. Just kidding — we also update our websites. But eventually we have to face the fact that we are finished with that book — finished, and it’s not even in bookstores yet — and it is time to start something new.
This is not an easy moment. In an interview after the publication of his story collection “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” David Gates was asked, “What are you working on now?” He replied: “Same to you, buddy.”
. . . .
Most manuscripts have more pages than the books they eventually become, but let’s be conservative and estimate that the manuscript consists of 350 pages, too. Figure four drafts (again: conservative), plus copies read by editors and friends, and it’s easy to see how a writer might have several thousand pages taking up prime real estate on her desk and making it impossible for her to start a new project. What to do with all this paper? Even though each draft is on a computer file, the printed pages are valuable because they contain notes from those who read the book along the way. How can one decide whether or not to save these manuscripts without rereading the comments?
I read a margin note on one manuscript page that said, “She is the world’s worst mother.” Twenty minutes later, looking through a different copy of the same draft, I discovered that another reader had written, “I feel so much sympathy for her here.” Which reminded me that reading is subjective, and that for the most part people enjoy debating the faults and virtues of characters — witness the popularity of book clubs. But things get complicated when readers meet writers.
“Which of your characters do you like best?” they want to know, and “What do you think happened to them after the book was over?” and “Was it hard to let go of them?” Some writers can jump right into this kind of conversation. “I like all of my characters, but I really love So-and-So.” “I think they probably moved to Carmel and bought a fixer-upper.” I can’t do this. Sometimes I hem and haw, saying, “Oh, they’re like children, you don’t have favorites, you love them all,” or “Gosh, I don’t know, what do you think?”
Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.