Is it even worth it?
That’s what I’m asking myself as I slog through the revision of the first draft of my first novel.
Shouldn’t I just quit and start working on something else?
I know the answer is no. And I know why. I believe in this book. It is important. I have something important and meaningful to say. I am dedicated to goodness, truth and beauty. And I want this to be as good, as true, and as beautiful as I know how to make it. It can never be perfect. There will be a time to lay it aside and move on. I will have done as well as I can, and it will be time to take all the things I have learned, and any of the skills I have gained and improved, and use them on a new project. Now is not that time to leave it behind.
But I want to quit. I have an essay to write concerning my thoughts on literary theory, what makes good art in writing, about which I’ve scribbled some notes and gathered some research. I have a short story I have plotted and for which I have set the scene and the characters. These call my attention. I want to lay aside my second draft and pursue these other laudable endeavors.
But it’s not time. Not now. If I quit now it will be even worse than the four times I quit on the first draft. Yes, I’ve achieved my personal goal of writing a book. It’s true that very few first books are worthy of publishing. It’s also true that one can waste a lot of time and energy on a project that will never be published because the author is not yet arrived at that level of competence. Yes, competence comes by writing more, and that need not be on the same project. But it’s not time to quit now. Because as much as I despair of ever completing the second draft, as much as I know there are at least two more revisions to do on this work, I still believe in it. It is still important. It is something I am compelled to say, to the best of my ability.
I had planned to be finished with all the revisions by the end of December. It’s drawing close to the middle of February. I am still revising Act I. Act II is about half the book. Act III is still hazy. I’ve reached the foothills. I cannot yet see the summit. I know I’m way behind. I’m impatient to move on.
Here am I, getting kicked in the teeth daily by Resistance. Struggling to write something everyday, and when writing, struggling, straining to get 500 words per day shoved though the revision grinder. Although I’ve been consistent this week, I did not write yesterday. One day lost. Today? I’m writing a blogpost, hoping to get things to flow for the novel and a scene that scares me. And the time I’d set aside for writing is almost over. I’ll have to somehow force myself to do it later this evening, dog tired, and not feeling well.
But this I believe in, as well. This aggravation, toil, labor, fear, doubt. I can spend another three months, six months, working these revisions, and all of it might come to nothing. Did I mention despair? Yes. Even that. I believe in it, because dues must be paid. Because this is how a writer learns his craft. Because this is what writing is—this wrestling with theme, metaphor, plot, character, setting, and a host of other things, trying somehow, someway, to get it all to cohere in a story that works, that moves, that communicates, that transfigures.
I believe in the story. I believe in the writing. I believe in it all. This is writing. And I am a writer.