In a recent essay in Publishers Weekly, “5 Writing Tips,” author Barbara Kingsolver said, “[Writing is] a project of balancing the audacity to do this work, and the humility to keep trying until you’ve gotten it right.”
The humility to keep trying.
I like that. And Lord knows, I’ve kept trying!
An unexpected value of blogging once a month is the ability to track the evolution of my writing. When I re-read my June 2013 post about killing a few darlings, I had to smile. Back in 2013, I remarked that I’d drafted 22 chapters. I can now report that after multiple darling-killing sessions, I’ve cut every one of those first 22. And I don’t say this to whine! I say it because it’s true and I appreciate that I needed to write them to get the story to a place that works; they don’t belong in the final version.
In July 2014 I blogged about my agent saying she couldn’t identify with my main character and couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to spend an entire novel with him. Ouch. After that, I considered scrapping it and starting something completely new. Instead, I buckled down and burrowed deeply beneath my protagonist’s skin. Who was this guy? What did he want more than anything in the world? Why did his story keep me up at night? What were/are my own issues related to gender identity and if I were a character in my novel, where would I fit in?
Somewhere along the way, I had four point-of-view characters and was alternating their chapters, telling the story in a Rashomon–style format. But it was too much. It didn’t work. I set aside that draft and began a new version with only one point of view, first person, present tense. Then I revised it into close-third. This month, I’m in the process of flipping the whole shebang into the past tense, which seems to be the place where the story flows best. But of course, you can’t simply change verbs from one tense to another without changing the voice, so that’s changing, too (in subtle ways… between the lines).
All of this is to say to anyone who’s struggling with a draft that isn’t quite working, take Kingsolver’s words to heart. Stay humble. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Hone the craft. The learning curve is steep.
Every once in a while I look for support from authors who’ve also taken many years to complete their novels, and this month I learned that Michael Crichton spent eight years writing Jurassic Park. So there’s hope!
Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that by mentioning Jurassic Park, I expect my new novel will become a bestseller. It’s not a thriller. (And in any case, per Kingsolver, I write with a lot of humility. Truth is, I write with a lot of doubt and insecurity, but those are subjects for another post.) For now, I’ll simply say this: it’s a joy to sense that my cast of characters is (finally) almost ready to go out into the world.
So, hang in there, y’all.
Keep trying. Keep writing. Happy New Year!
And thank you, Kristin Swenson, friend and fellow author, for tuning me into Kingsolver’s essay.