I have two books which I have written to completion. One is a large project, something which will take multiple books - multiple series of books, even - in order to tell completely. The other is a shorter novel, something which may or may not spawn a series, but which I wrote in a short period of time for a yearly event called National Novel Writing Month. I actually completed the first novel just a week or so before last November, when this event - lovingly shortened to NaNoWriMo but participants - takes place.
Now, I have completed these books, yes. In a certain sense. Some people might be thinking, if they were not aware of the title of this post before reading it, why, then, I do not have anything published? Leaving aside the difficulty one has these days when seeking a publishing label, even with an agent behind you, it is because I am not actually done writing them yet. I am in the infinitely wonderful process of my first rewrite for each.
So here are the hard facts: your book - which you so proudly completed just recently - isn't finished. It's not even finished in a "let's send it to an editor or an agent" way. In its current state, the story which was just concluded is a mess, a series of contradictions and inconsistencies spread throughout like a bad rash. Even aside from the errors which are in it, the work is likely to seem off to you. Excited as you were when it began, looking over what you had written at the beginning of this venture just seems wrong. This dissatisfaction comes in two broad forms: simple recognition of the change in story tone, structure, and overall development of events, necessitating alterations, removals and/or additions to/of characters and events which simply do not fit with the overall narrative anymore. The next is a more personal recognition, that of your own skill having progressed, thus making what earlier had seemed like gold look more like copper. Nice, but time has taken its toll, and it doesn't seem quite as shiny. When I finished my second book last November, a bunch of people wanted to read it, but looking through even my edited copy, dissatisfaction of both categories made me hide it away like an embarrassingly bad drawing from my pre-teen years.
This is the part of a book's life where, according to multiple sources (including one of my personal favorite, the inspiring and joyful Wonderbook), it is most likely to either be shelved in favor of newer projects on an indefinite basis or abandoned outright. Why? Well, think about it. I don't know how long it took other people, but completing my first novel took over a year. Working full-time jobs, having to do managerial paperwork outside the actual location for one of those, and the general ups, downs, and grinds of life took up most of the time that I would have wanted to spend on the book. Then there was part three, an entire section - the longest, in fact - of which about 90% was not intended to ever be in the story before I started writing it.
Now, I look at my work and see a good, but oddly contorted mess. It's disheartening considering the time, effort, and pain which went into that first draft, and it's time to start over again. Oh, now I have a much better view of what needs to be done. Sections to be added or contracted, points to be made, and I'm a better writer while doing it, but it sucks. It sucks, I tell you. I almost wish I could just edit what has already been written and see it done with, but it would just push the garbage into a corner, still stinking up what would be an otherwise okay-looking story. I can see why people are so likely to give it all up at this point. Were I not so gleeful about editing, I don't think I would have the strength given the drains already existent from life all around me.
Once I started, however, I realized something, that what I was doing was good. Not just in terms of an ethical ideal of worthwhile labor, but from a qualitative viewpoint as well. There was so much which could have been said, but went unwritten, things I cut out in the beginning of my grand venture because they seemed too talky, or other parts which needed serious cutting but I just didn't know how to condense just yet. As an example, I managed to cut three whole paragraphs of bothersome exposition to a single paragraph and series of purposely fragmented sentences which conveyed all the information needed at the time. So much of what was explained before can be introduced at much more appropriate spots, and I had done just that, going over information already explained in an earlier, much uglier section. I streamlined my exposition and removed repetition, enriching the substance of the actual narrative. Beautiful.
So it's hard. It really is, especially since everything is already there, deceptively shiny to your innocent, loving gaze. It may even look good when put between two covers, as things tend to, but it wouldn't be the best it could be. And it may never be possible to perfect a story. There are different editions with revisions which might come out, but, as E.M. Forster once said, expanding on a similar quote by DaVinci: "A work of art is never finished, it is merely abandoned." Eventually, you need to send it off for review or into the maws of the printing press, but you will never even get close to that unreachable point of completion without first stating your story anew, with the previous draft as a guide to go by. It may be painful, but as another great (wo)man once said: no pain, no gain.
And here, because I love this illustration so much:
Francis van Zandt writes about writing, fantasy, and fantasy writing. Updates come once a week or so, time and inspiration allowing.