Wednesday, March 9, 2011

100,000 Versions of the Same Novel



I was looking back through some old computer files, trying to find a particular scene from a long-ago version of my novel because I thought I might be able to use it in this current revision. For seem reason, seeing all those versions of my novel kind of depressed me. Like over a decade's worth of versions, each holding my little fragile dream of success in its pages. Seriously any one of them could have been the one, but instead they are all just little ugly, deformed clones of one another that didn't work out. A friend of mine shook me out of the bad feeling by saying that every novelist has files and files of versions of the same book, and that all those ones that didn't work are like stepping stones to the one that does work, at least we hope like hell it works, as indicated by the use of the present tense. (Do you mice have this experience?) I don't usually succumb to feelings of regret, especially about my work, but it did kind of bum me out. Like: Why is this taking so long? Why do I have to be the one to write the same book for 13 years? Why can't I be like Joyce Carol Oates who whips out a book every ten minutes? Then I found this Thoreau quotation, which I share with you above. Oh, and, by the way, I did find the scene I was looking for in a version from 1999, and I am able to use it in the new version, so all is not lost.

5 comments:

Laura Maylene said...

This morning I was working on the latest version (of many) of my current novel and felt a twinge of despair, but hopefully that was because of sleep deprivation. I have two other novels, both trunked, that also went through various revisions (though not as many as I've already gone through for this one). When I think about those novels now, the revisions that ultimately didn't lead anywhere don't bother me. They helped me learn and improve my craft. Writing a novel is a complex and difficult and ever-changing process. It should take time.

I think the key is that you have to believe that the current version/novel you're working on now is going to be the right one (until you're ready to revise again, of course). Even slipping into the thought that this could become a discarded project makes it too crippling to continue Good luck to you.

Nick said...

Old drafts makes me appreciate how fallible my judgment can be. I remember how jubilant I was upon completing them, how absolutely sure I was that it was worthy of being published.

Yes, those old drafts were necessary to "progress" one's art. But what progress they facilitate exerts quite a toll.

I look at the drafts and realize just how misguided initial optimism can be. It makes me doubt what I'm doing today, and doubt what I'll be capable of doing tomorrow.

ddelano said...

I try to look at it this way: I haven't spent 10 years writing one novel, I have spent 10 years writing 5 novels - that's not too bad really! The fact that at least 4 of them will remain in my desk drawer I try not to think about!

Anonymous said...

You don't say what you do with the various versions of your novel. If they are being rejected repeatedly, why not move onto something new? If that succeeds, you will have a good chance at getting the first accepted. "Flogging a dead horse" is more pertinent than ever in our new brave world.

Id said...

Oh wow. Your blog and mine should be best friends. They should go have coffee or get matching tattoos or something. ;)

I know exactly how you feel! I've been working on the same novel for years now and I'm always going forward and then back and then forward... it's exhausting! But you're right -- it's all for the best in the end. I figure I've written three terrible books along the way to one good one. I blog about all this kind of stuff here: http://egoburn.blogspot.com/

Keep up the writing!