Sometimes my husband and I fight about my writing career. We often don’t agree on what direction it should take or what the end result should be. This week my husband said, “You rush through rewriting. I don’t want you doing that with this novel. Sometimes it takes 100 times to get it right.”
How could I possibly be rushing? I wondered. After all, I wrote the first draft as a separate book, thinking it was done in 2005. I rewrote it again in 2008, knowing it was not. I wrote a second book in 2010 thinking the first book was a waste of time. I came back to the second book in 2013, finally realizing the first book provided necessary flashbacks that could fill out the second story, making it richer, fuller, deeper, and more meaningful.
“If you rush through it again, you’ll only end up with second rate offers,” he said. “I’m tired of you settling for second rate offers when you could take your time and do it right and get the best offer up front like the rest of your writing friends do.”
I sighed with frustration. Of course, there was a speck of truth in what he said, but I was determined to prove his theory about me wrong this time. I would take however long it took to get this novel right, even if it meant spending 10 years rewriting the same pages over and over again.
“You don’t have the patience,” my husband said. “That’s why you’re better known and most respected for your articles and essays. It doesn’t take much patience to polish 2,000 words.”
I shook my head, wondering if he was right. Did my reliance on writing short pieces stem from my lack of patience? Would I end up further ahead in my writing career if I devoted more time to writing longer works, even if it took a hundred times longer than it normally took for me to write something shorter? Would the payoff be better if I slowed down and reexamined the same scene three hundred times instead of three dozen times?
Often I’ve marveled over the breakout books that left the author in what appeared to be a draught of several years before a second book was published. Why did it take so long, especially when the author didn’t have a second job?
Ten years passed from Donna Tartt’s breakout debut, The Secret Society, and her second novel, The Little Friend. Her third book, The Goldfinch, is slated to be published this October, eleven years after The Little Friend was released.
Why did it take Tartt ten and eleven years to publish her second and third books when she doesn’t have a husband, children, or a full-time job to juggle?
“Because she took her time,” my husband said. “She’s an artist. She knows her craft. Her books are complicated. It takes a couple of years to write something good. It takes even longer to write something as complex as the story you’re trying to tell. So if you hand it to me in the next couple of months asking me to read it, I’m handing it right back to you and telling you it’s not fit to be read yet because it’s not done.”
“But what if it doesn’t take a dozen years to get right?” I asked.
My husband’s mouth formed a tight line. “I know you. You get excited when a few things come together and you get depressed when a few things fall apart. You have to stick with the story long enough so that if someone invited you to a dinner party and the guests asked what you were doing you would launch right into the crux of the story and start talking about these people as if they really did exist.”
I frowned. “No one does that. Not even the famous writers I’ve met.”
My husband chuckled. “You can’t count those writing conferences you go to as dinner parties. First, the authors who attend consider it work. They have an agenda. If they sit at your table, they’re going to talk about what they’ve been paid to talk about. They aren’t going to share what they’re working on with you.”
“But you’re saying they would.”
“In the right circumstances, yes,” my husband said. “I’ve had dinner with plenty of screenwriters who were working on projects for several years before anyone even heard of them. They knew their stories by heart and could recite lines as if they were cult fans of a movie.”
“Like the guys did with The Princess Bride?” I asked, remembering how annoying it was to watch the movie with a bunch of my husband’s twenty-year old friends who said each line just as the character’s opened their mouths.
“Yes, like that,” he said. “And you can’t do that by rewriting a novel in 20 days.”
I stormed out of the room, unable to battle against my husband’s wits any longer.
Should I set a timer to see how long it takes to rewrite this book to my satisfaction?
Or should I place out a couple of calendars instead?
Stay tuned. It might be a long journey.