Writing a novel is like setting out on an adventure: exciting until you realize it mostly drudgery and despair. Writing a novel is like rowing across a lake: by the time you’re in the middle, you don’t feel like you’re making progress and want to give up. Writing a novel is like being committed: you sit alone talking to your imaginary friends while descending further into madness.
I doubt that any of those analogies are original to this blog. Writing being writing, there are countless similes and metaphors for, well, writing. When it comes to explaining what takes a novel so long to finish, my favorite is thus:
Writing a novel is like building your first house: by the time you finish, you’ve gained enough skill to know that everything must be rebuilt.
Let’s talk about revision and renovation. I am running my manuscript through its last revision before I begin to submit it to agents. At this point, all I’m changing is small stuff. I’m catching typos, cutting fat, smoothing language, and adding details. Essentially, the house is built, painted, and carpeted. The only thing left is touch up, covering the nicks and dings, maybe dusting and vacuuming. After that bit of clean up, it’ll be ready for sale.
However, it took a long time to get here. I wrote the novel from beginning to end. Mostly. There were a few bits where I jumped around or realized I needed to patch the plot together, but mostly, I started at the start and worked to the end. When I got to that end, I not only had grown in skill as a writer, but I had become acquainted with what the novel was. Thus, the last chapters of the books were the best written and the first were the worst.
Imagine a carpenter with five years’ experience returning to look at his high school shop project. That’s what this felt like. The prologue was so useless that I had to completely replace it. The opening chapters showcased an obnoxious, unlikable protagonist. There were adverbs and qualifiers hanging from every sentence. I looked upon mine own works and despaired.
Then I got out my tools, and started the long work of rebuilding. It took time. It took patience. After I hammered down the typos and sanded the pacing, I brought in friends to look with fresh eyes. Oh, they did what friends are supposed to do, they complemented where they could, told me what looked finished, but far more importantly, they pointed out the leaky humor and tripped over exposed plot holes. They showed me where work still needed to be done.
The funny thing is, I kind of already knew. I had a sense something was wrong with these pieces, but either wasn’t sure, or wasn’t sure what the solution was. Still. After each inspection, there was more revision, more renovation. Until this last one.
And just like a house, I could keep going forever. I could upgrade the metaphors, reinforces the tone. I could work and work and work and never stop. And if this was a house I was building just for me, I might do that. But it isn’t. It’s a house I built to sell. I know it will never be perfect. I also know, I’m ready to start looking for the right real estate agent to fetch me a buyer.
As with all things, this metaphor isn’t perfect. But it is my favorite. It’s the one that makes the most sense. It’s the one that acknowledges the immense amount of work to complete long form writing. It also acknowledges how easy it is to keep going, to keep renovating, until the end of time.
I hope this has given you some perspective. Now, go. Write.