This post is kind of rambly, for which I apologize.
I have been working on BY* for 2 years and about 3 months. I am maybe 2/3 of the way through what will be only its first finished draft.
While there are supposedly people who labor over every word and then produce a nearly perfect first draft, in general one is “supposed” to get that first draft out out out and then fix it. Write that first draft quick and dirty, and then revise until it’s perfect. Or write it longer and a bit scummy, and then revise til it’s perfect. But in general, the writing advice that is floating around says, “Write the first draft quickly. It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to be ugly.”**
But now here I am with BY, 2+ years later. And the last book I worked on (like, hardcore “this is the book I am writing” worked on, not “oh I’m writing this for a while oops nevermind”) took 5 years of my life. I never finished it. I realized it was holding me back so I cut it and moved on to BY.
And in some ways I regret how much time it has taken, how long I have been chipping away at the same block of marble, but in other ways I think it has been good for me and for the book.
So I wanted to write a post in defense of taking your time.
I mean, first of all, a lot has happened in the Life of Grace. Since starting BY, I’ve graduated from college, moved halfway across the country, hunted for and found a job, and moved across the city. That sort of sounds like I’m making excuses, but it’s more like I occasionally have to remind myself of all the other stuff I have done in these 2+ years, instead of writing.
Instead of writing BY, I should say.
At various points during these 2 years, I had between 1-3 novels in progress. BY is the one that stuck, but I don’t think working on the others was necessarily bad. A distraction, perhaps. But I kind of feel like I was cross-training. And when I was ready to concentrate 100% on BY, that is what I did.
Also, I participated in NaNo last year for the first time, as kind of an exercise. I decided to put BY on hold for a month and see what happened. The main thing that happened was I met some super-amazing people, and flexing my writing muscles on something entirely different (even though I of course didn’t finish the 50k) can only have been good for me. But mostly, the people. I don’t regret that lost month at all.
A lot has changed in the novel itself. The number of protagonists went from 1 to 2, and the tense changed from third/past to third/past and first/present. The structure of the novel was completely turned on its head. If I were a faster writer, each of these changes could have been its own draft. But if I make a drastic novel-changing decision partway through a draft, it just makes more sense to me to start over. That’s just how my brain works. Again, not something one is “supposed” to do, but it’s what I do.
But mostly—and I realize this will make me sound like an overly-dreamy artistic type—I don’t think you can write something until you are ready to write it. BY today is so incredibly different than BY 2 years ago, it’s really almost like a different book. And I’m not the same writer I was 2 years ago. BY and the other things I have worked on over that time have changed the way I write. I simply could not be writing this book 2 years in my past.
My hope is that when I do finish this draft, which I will, it will be—not perfect, obviously, but a lot farther along than a “real” first draft.
We shall see.
So I’m not really in a position to give real advice, or even to say “this works for me!” because it hasn’t really worked quite yet, but I wanted to put out there some reasons I think my “method” is actually okay.
So how about you? Are you a quickie (uhm) or do you take your time like me?
*because I now have multiple projects, I’m going back to having a code name (well, initials) to help keep them straight. see “on writing” to the right.
**and for the record, I am not at all disagreeing with this wisdom. I know a lot of people for whom this method works perfectly.