“You don’t learn to be a good carpenter by building several bad houses – you learn by building a good one.”
–Sara J. Henry
I just finished a draft of my novel-in-progress for the third time. I’ll repeat that last part for emphasis: the third time.
To make a long story about a long story shorter, I started working on the novel in a workshop back in 2006. Since then it has made almost every shift possible, including points-of-view, tense, and focus. It surged forward on optimism and spun out of control more times than I can count. The process both revealed my weaknesses as a writer and challenged me to discover ways to overcome them.
Most writers are told the first novel is junk and should be put away in a drawer. The second one is your first real book, since you’ll have cleared out all of the bad habits and unoriginal ideas in the initial attempt. Yet I didn’t put this away.
Every time I read the story, I felt like I had hit on something, and though there wasn’t a glut of this kind of literary fiction on the market the concept had possibilities. Trying to puzzle out this story resulted in about twenty fragments of short fiction, almost like B-sides from a band or Batman’s untold adventures.
This last attempt truly feels like a last attempt. I worked from an outline and better defined the premise, tossing out more than 100 pages of material that just didn’t fit. Through the process, characters were combined, cut, story lines shifted, and the idea better defined. Like the quote that opened this explained, I kept working and reworking, taking paths more and less traveled, all in an attempt to build a better book.
Now I’m going back to revise, edit, and polish the work. I feel like the craft of writing has largely been completed, and this is where the artistry begins.
If you are working on a project, please comment and let me know how it is going. Have you learned about yourself as an artist along the way? What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?