Forgetting A Child

Last week’s piece, “It’s Out! Five Odd Honors,”

New Child Joins the Family

began by noting how I had suddenly remembered that my latest novel Five Odd Honors was about to be released. In a comment, Nicholas said: “I hope that never happens to me. I’ve poured myself into what little I have written. The idea of forgetting about it, it’s like forgetting a child.”

Nicolas clarified this by noting that he is still working on his first major project and that later, maybe, he’d feel differently. My initial thought was, “Well, a book isn’t a child.”

However, the more I mulled over Nicolas’ comment, the more I thought it merited a detailed reply – and a shared memory to show that I do understand what he meant.

Back when my own fiction publications were few, I attended a science fiction convention at which artist Liz Danforth teased author Roger Zelazny about how, some years before at a different science fiction convention, her team had beaten his in a trivia game because Roger couldn’t remember the name of one of his own characters.

For those of you who wonder, the character in question was Rosie from Jack of Shadows.

Rosie goes through a pretty tough time in that book. She plays a really important role, so, frankly, I was shocked. How could Roger have forgotten her?

Now here I am, many years later, author of twenty-one published novels and over sixty published short stories (and that doesn’t count the ones I’ve written and haven’t published). I’ve got to admit it. Especially in the case of secondary characters, yeah, I’ve probably forgotten a name or two. The character, no, but whether the name was Daisy or Rosie or Petunia, yeah… Probably.

Does this mean I don’t care? Hardly. I love each and every one of those people, but the fact is that enough time has passed so I don’t remember every one of them by name.

But then I’m not perfect in real life either. Here’s an example. I like my sister Susan’s in-laws a great deal. Even though we live far apart, we exchange Christmas cards and occasional notes. But every so often, I need to pause and think, “Nancy and… Ed! Right. Ed.”

Does this mean I don’t like Ed and Nancy? That I don’t care? Hardly, but life goes on and names slip down behind others in the filing cabinet which is daily life.

However, there’s another reason beyond just pure human forgetfulness that I sometimes forget when a book is coming out or exactly what some character’s sister’s name is. That reason is a strong, practical outgrowth of a rule that every writer – especially those who hope to someday be published – needs to remember.

Write it. Live it. Love it. Finish it. Send it out. And…

Forget it.

Yes. Forget it. Put it out of your mind. Start something else.

But why? How? How could you possibly do that?

Well, the reality is that publishing is a slow, slow business. If you sit and wait for a reply on the fate of your “child” before starting something new, it’s likely that you’re going to do a whole lot more waiting than writing. Most writers prefer to be writing (a process in which I include editing, polishing, and, to a limited extent, researching).

Here’s an example from my own recent experience. In January, a writer friend called to ask me if I wanted to work on a project with him. I said, “Maybe, sure. Send details.” And my friend said, “I’ll have X [the editor in question] get in touch with your agent.” Here we are in mid-May. Have my agent or I heard anything? No. Does this surprise us? Double no.

If I’d spent that time waiting, I would have spent five months doing nothing other than waiting. Instead, I did a lot of writing.

And, honestly, much as I love them, my books aren’t my children. Children need constant care and reinforcement. Books don’t. They don’t care if you work on them or not. Children do.

So, I don’t think it’s particularly cruel or unusual to forget that one of my books is about to be released. The book is done. It’s birthed and off to the world where it will transform with each reader who encounters it.

My job as a writer is to move on – all the while hoping that, for those who encounter it, the story that was the focus of all my energy while I was writing it provokes thought, or inspiration, or even something as light as amusement to fill an idle hour.

5 Responses to “Forgetting A Child”

  1. aakansha Says:

    i like reading all kinds of books but science fiction is one of my favourite category. That’s why i became member of matris so that i can read as many books i want to read

  2. heteromeles Says:

    Good poins. Actually, your books are like your children, in that they came from you, and if you’re lucky, they’ll support you in your old age. Or at least, they’ll stop by to visit occasionally.

  3. Nicholas Says:

    Hmmmm, didn’t know I’d trigger a specific topic. Though your arguments make a lot of sense. Even as I’m writing this I’m thinking on my first “child” that’s awaiting a response, in this case a novella. Maybe I do need to let go and focus on the novel that still needs work.

    Thanks for the insight.

  4. Johnny P! Says:

    Excellent thoughts expressed well. Though I may not have said so before, your insights and observations have served and continue to serve me rather well. Thanks!

  5. Paul Says:

    I agree with Johnny P! on your insights and observations serving me well. I’ve published 20+ short stories between the 1960s and early 2000s, and I can’t remember the names of more than three of the characters from any of them. Who they are and what they did, yes, but not the names.

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