I get this question all the time as if my book were a souffle or cake in the oven. The timer has been set. Someone else has determined the appropriate temperature and time for baking. Trust me though. Just like your baked goods, your book will fall if you take it out too early.
Cooking requires patience and so does novel writing. I like to think of my book as a dish that needs to marinate, soaking in its own juices long enough to absorb everything and maximize its flavor.
Beginning writers sometimes ask how they’ll know when their book is done. My response to novices is that your novel is rarely ready when you think it is. How can it be when you’re still learning the basics of craft and discovering your story?
In an industry where it takes forever for things to happen, we must subdue the urge to rush. I queried literary agents two years ago when I thought my novel was ready. It wasn’t and I received many rejection letters to punctuate that fact. It’s tough to take your time though when others’ expectations buzz in your ears. Or when you’re surreptitiously eyeing someone else’s paper. I get it. Our writing contemporaries seem to be leapfrogging over us by writing two books simultaneously, securing agents and book deals overnight, and publishing new work while we hunch over our laptops and notebooks, toiling in the trenches.
A year ago, when I placed in a writing contest based upon an excerpt of my novel, a former work colleague grossly misunderstood the meaning of this honor. On Facebook she inquired as to whether my novel would be available for her upcoming book club meeting in two months. I laughed. I almost cried. I felt like a failure or at best a fraud for having to say no, I’m still working on the book. She wasn’t the first to inquire. People often look at me in amazement or perhaps pity, shaking their heads, saying, wow, you’ve been writing that book for a long time.
My critique partner and beta readers often lament that I’m a perfectionist, laboring (read: obsessing) over every scene and every word much too long. Maybe they’re right. There is a point at which we must let go and let our books fly. But before then, there’s revision and revision and more revision.
Daily living is part of the revision process. Sometimes we haven’t experienced enough to bring the right emotions to the page. It wasn’t until I’d lived years without my beloved father on this Earth with me that I understood the impact of grief and how it shapes my perception of the world. It wasn’t until my father died that I began to inspect my mother’s face and movements so closely, memorizing them so I wouldn’t forget any details. I explored loss and memory in my novel, The Kindest Lie, through Midnight, an 11-year-old boy whose mother died, as well as through Ruth, my protagonist, who lost her grandfather when she was a young girl.
While the novel is always your story and yours alone, revision shouldn’t be a solitary exercise. [Read more…]