I’ve written before about the process of writing a novel…the various stages. I have written to you about reaching page 300 of the new novel I'm working on and being happy about that as if the rest of the writing were downhill. I have written about page 301, at which time I realized that I didn’t know what happened next or last. I’ve written about giant whiteboards and sticky notes, excel spreadsheets and abandoned outlines. I’ve written about the slow, steady decline in the state of my office as I write a novel, and the day I finished my first draft.
In the past few months, I have worked my way through three more drafts. I’ve edited for structure, for logistics, for character. I have earmarked a few scenes that aren’t quite working, and I’ll print those page and stare at them for a day or so until I figure out how to fix them. And then, will I be done?
This is the next big step in writing a novel…when to let it go? In the early stages of a writer’s career, I would say most of us let go too soon, and generally we are letting go of a novel that is not very good. Those novels don’t sell and are tucked away in a drawer or a box or a vault where they will never, ever, ever be read by anyone. And then we writers write another novel or two and hopefully write one that is good enough to sell. But it will never sell if we don’t stop tinkering with it. If we don’t stop moving commas and flipping through our thesaurus and rewriting the first 50 pages and cutting adverbs and changing this character’s eye color and that character’s hair color and adding a second story to the protagonist’s house and rewriting the first 50 pages and adding back a few adverbs and searching for and deleting all occurrences of the word shrug and deleting the semi-colons that we really don’t know how to properly use and rewriting the first 50 pages we will never FINISH.
So in the next few days—okay, maybe the next few weeks—I’ll stop tinkering with the first 50 pages of my next novel, stop adding and cutting and changing and rearranging and I’ll let it go, which is to say I’ll start letting other people read it. However, I have learned in the months since I sold BENT ROAD (also a novel that I probably tinkered with far too long) that a novel isn’t truly done and we don’t truly let go until it’s sitting on a shelf in a bookstore.