There’s a paradox in book-writing. While it’s a true feat just to finish the draft of a book, few rookies and no civilians have a clue how hard it is to make that draft publishable. Yet even when the manuscript is ready, some of the would-be author’s advisors, usually fellow writers—not to mention those he’s pitching, the editors, agents, publishers—will still hate it. Or just be uninterested because it doesn’t do what they need or what they would’ve done. Once technique is under control, which of course is another matter of opinion, loving or hating a book comes down to taste or to preference or to market. Sometimes to character, on both sides of the equation: the writer’s and the reader’s.
And once in a while, because there are so very many ways to go wrong, the writer himself decides to put his manuscript out of its misery, to file it in the darkness under his bed. I’ve heard it said you’re not a true writer until you do that. Give up. Admit defeat. Start something else.
That’s what Dinty W. Moore did with a book he worked on for five years, according to his fascinating essay in a new book, Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family, edited by Joy Castro (University of Nebraska Press, 224 pp.). I’ve heard Moore refer to this lost project, or read his references to it, and have always planned to ask him some day what happened. What was the problem he couldn’t solve? He wasn’t a rookie, having published a book of short stories and two nonfiction books, including his very successful The Accidental Buddhist.