It can happen while sipping Chardonnay at a party. It can happen while exchanging small talk with a colleague at work. It can happen while hiking up a mountain with friends. That bittersweet question: “Oh Peg, how’s your novel coming along?”
It’s sweet because I appreciate others taking an interest in my craft. It’s bitter because I have to give the same answer as the last time, “Still in the draft phase.” I could say, “I graduated from draft five to draft six,” or “I think I finally nailed chapter one after ten attempts,” but people aren’t interested in numbers. People want me to pull out a polished story packaged between a book cover with a five-star review blurb from the New York Times. And really, shouldn’t I be there by now? After all, I published my first novel almost two years ago. What’s taking so long? Where’s the talent?
Well first of all, I had to pin down a setting. I started on a coffee plantation in Costa Rica. Although intriguing, I didn’t know enough about the culture and language to make the story authentic. So, I moved my characters to a vineyard in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, but it didn’t quite capture the mood I wanted to create. Off to a coffee farm on the Big Island of Hawaii where legends thrive and volcanoes prevail. Perfect!
The primary setting for my next novel: A coffee plantation on the slope of Hualalai Volcano, Hawaii
Then there’s the characters. I must admit, I had to kill a few. At the risk of sounding ruthless, they weren’t working and had to go. Don’t worry. I’m a good-hearted soul and may bring them back to life in another novel some time. That is, if I ever finish novel two.
I wondered if successful authors, who are revered by critics and readers, struggle when trying to take an idea to a completed novel. Thanks to the Internet, I discovered the answer. Here’s what a few experts, who are taking up at least a couple of spots on my bookshelf, had to say:
Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl & others) – “I probably write two novels for every one I end up with—lots of deleted scenes as I try to figure out what it is I’m really interested in, what it is I’m actually writing.”
Khalid Hosseni (author of The Kite Runner & others) – “Writing is largely about rewriting, and I abhor writing the first draft. I love writing subsequent drafts because that’s when I can see the story getting closer and closer to what I intended and what my original hopes for it were.”
Alice Hoffman (author of The Dovekeepers & others) – “I rewrite the entire manuscript several times, then go through it in pieces. I always find if you read fiction out loud you know what you have to change by what you stumble over.”
And the one that may get framed and placed on the wall near my computer. From John Irving who spent seven years creating, The World According to Garp:
Any writers out there? How many times do you find yourself revising your essay, short story, novel, etc.? When do you stamp the final “The End” on the last page?
Posted by: Peggy Morehouse (Strack)