She Took Time and Effort

People say that if you write a little bit here and a little bit there, eventually it will add up. I guess “People” were right. Though I feel like I haven’t been working on my novel much, Scrivener begs to differ. It says I’ve written 40,000 words. What’s more surprising than the number itself, though, is that I feel like I haven’t actually started writing. I might have 40K words, but I suspect that only a fraction of them will end up in the finished work.

That’s because I’ve been writing blind. I started with a good premise, but a premise is not a story. It took 40,000 words of exploratory writing just to begin to understand who my characters are, what they’re doing, and why. I have a broad outline now, and every day I work on the details. Once I know exactly what has to happen, then I can start to build the scenes using some of the blocks of text that I’ve already written as the foundation. Then I’ll really be writing.

This lengthy process makes me feel both slow and inefficient. I think that NaNoWriMo skewed my ideas about how much time and text it would take to make a novel. I’ve got 4/5 of the text required to win it, but probably only 1/10 of a novel. I’ve been working on it for 7 months (seven times as long as NaNoWriMo!), but I’m nowhere near being done. How lame am I?

But, according to author Philip Roth, I’m probably right on schedule. I was listening to the radio on the long drive back from CT last night, and I caught part of an old interview with Roth (who died this week, sadly). In the interview, Roth said that his novels took two to three years each.

He also said, “The book begins to make its demands. The demands are intellectual, they’re imaginative, they’re aesthetic.” I’ve never read any of his books, but I think I know what he meant. My novel is demanding. It presents themes and asks me to expand on them. It begs for allusions and homages. It insists that I do enough research to give it at least the veneer of scientific plausibility.

I do the best I can to make it happy, but this appeasement takes time and a lot of thought, often much more thought than writing. That’s probably just as it ought to be, too. Should I ever finish this novel, regardless of how it turns out, I hope that a reader would be willing to say, “It’s clear that she didn’t just dash this one off. She took time and effort and tried to do the idea justice.”

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1 Response to She Took Time and Effort

  1. sprite says:

    I feel like you can definitely tell the authors who have a plug-and-play style of book (many of the genre series sorts of books fall into this category) and those who’ve nurtured their book along, feeding it greens as well as candy. I’m glad you’re opting for the second category of story.

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