If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Do It

October 19, 2006

Issue #9 of A Novel in One Semester
by Mary Kay Zuravleff, copyright 2006

Rougher week than usual here at Novel Boot Camp. I’m proud to say that every single person, including yours truly, made it to 28K words and that many of us wouldn’t have if our honor wasn’t on the line. So there’s a lesson right there. Write whether you’re in the mood or not. Some novels get drafted in the most plodding fashion, one foot awkwardly stumbling in front of the other, until you, with some grace, make it into the clearing or up the mountain.

What’s different? Taking ourselves more seriously than we did at first, because 100 pages is nothing to throw out lightly. There’s been wear and tear as well, as with anything that requires an excess of discipline: dieting, saving money, keeping your shoes in the closet.

Don't Step Away from the Novel
Taking time off is not the answer. OK, maybe a walk or a day, but not much more. It helps to hear from folks in every creative endeavor that the first draft can become torture to finish.

Here’s the painter Delacroix, writing in his journal in 1824: “When I first began, I think I should have been willing to work at it from the top of a church steeple, whereas now, even to think of finishing requires a real effort. And all this, simply because I have been away from it for so long. It is the same with my picture and with everything else I do. There is always a thick crust to be broken before I can give my whole heart to anything; a stubborn piece of ground, as it were, that resists the attacks of plough and hoe. But with a little perseverance the hardness suddenly gives and it becomes so rich in fruit and flowers that I am quite unable to gather them all.”

If that’s too long a reach, how about the prolific Jonathan Lethem some ten minutes ago: “The most germane bit of advice I have is to not bog down in writing one thing over and over again early on, but to finish something and move to the next, and then to do that again and again and again. . . . Learn what it is to write a beginning, middle, and end.”

I can’t promise we won’t be in for abundant rewriting through numerous drafts, but here’s to the perseverance to get beyond the middle, where many writers give up.

By October 25, 2006, we’re due to bank 32K words, and we’ll begin to talk about satisfying endings. Won’t that be a treat?