Works in Progress

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When I quit my job as an event planner to pursue my literary dream, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t realize my life was changing forever.

I banged out a novel in three months. I was proud of it though I knew it needed work. But I’d reached the finish line on something that had been a goal of mine for a very long time. It felt good. The feeling was so good that I decided to submit it to agencies and publishing houses. I received feedback from several, rejections from most. All of this inspired my second draft.

Joyce Carol Oates says: “Any artist who is impatient with revision is probably doomed to be forever an amateur: “promising” through a lifetime.”

How fitting. Each of us shows promise as writers. Whether it’s through talent or drive or a combination of the two, there is a promise for something more.

I’ve now written two whole novels, though neither is finished. Now I’m writing a third and a fourth while revising the first two. Friends say funny things, like “You’ll never be happy. Just self publish already” or “You’re just afraid to be finished.”

No, that’s not it at all. I’m afraid to say something is finished when it’s not. I’m afraid of putting my name on something that hasn’t reached its potential. I’m afraid that finishing it now would be the equivalent of throwing in the towel long before the game is over. I have so much to learn and my writing continues to improve with each new lesson. Self-publishing certainly has its merits but I’m not ready for that either. If I knew my work was “perfect” or even close, maybe I’d consider it. But though I‘ve come so far I know I’m not even close to where I need to be.   

Oates says: “Writing can be revised, living cannot.”

What a great Facebook status! Also, what a fun way to look at this process we have chosen! Writing gives us the opportunity to strive for perfection or at least our idea of perfection. As writers we can continue to improve through our writing and we never have to stop improving—even after we say something is final. I’ve heard of many professional writers who continue to tweak their manuscripts even after they’ve been published. Perhaps that’s the perfectionist spirit or maybe it’s hard to break the habit of consistent improvement? Maybe it’s the promise to be the best we can be or to see the writing reach its purpose. Are we ever really done? 

Oates says: “We don’t know what we’ve written until we read it through as a reader, expelled from the process of the work, and no longer as a writer enthralled by its creation.”

This seems true and yet I wonder if I’ll ever be able to separate myself enough from my work to be able to be a reader and not also the writer? How is it possible to make that distinction? As a mother, I know it’s impossible to see my daughter as a child without also being her mother. I gave birth to her. Whether it’s a child or a creative work being born from another, how can the person giving birth be expected to be objective? Is it possible?

Oates says: “Lady Chatterly’s Lover exists in three quite unique manuscript versions of which the last was the one to be published, and become infamous.” In her lecture this week, my writing professor says: “Those who have been writing for a long time will usually tell you that what they start out with only bears a partial resemblance to what they reach at the end.”

Being on my fourth complete overhaul of my first novel, this gives me hope. This draft will be nothing like the first. Versions two and three were already dramatically different. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever “finish” this novel. I don’t know. But I know I’ll never stop trying.

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