Three Years, Four Drafts, One Manuscript

 This stock photo is making me thirsty.

This stock photo is making me thirsty.

I'm a liar. For all you close readers out there, I promised myself I was only going to write three drafts of my novel. I was even silly enough to put that promise on the internet, where it will always exist.

As I wrap up the fourth draft of my book, I'm overwhelmed with a number of emotions: relief, fear, anxiety, pride, happiness. I've been working on or thinking about this book for so long now it's hard for me to imagine a time when I wasn't. The process of writing the manuscript has become an permanent part of my daily existence for at least the past three years. I've grown up while writing this book. The world changed so much while I typed away in my realistic, but ultimately fictional world. Try living underground without seeing the sun for a while. Then, when you're having trouble keeping track of the days of the week, climb to the surface. Get blinded by the sunlight. It's like that.

And now, as I prepare to make the last developmental edits to my book, I can see the goalposts clearly. My book is not perfect. No piece of art is. But there has to be a point where you walk away. I can see myself doing five more drafts. I'm a perfectionist and I will chase utter, unrealistic, impossible perfection. It's in my blood. It's a dog chasing cars. I know I'll be proud after I distance myself from the manuscript for a couple weeks. I've been through it before on a smaller scale. This will be no different.

Honestly, the most significant takeaway from this three-year ordeal isn't anything obvious. While I have learned much about The Craft and The Process and The Nature of Creativity, one lesson has singularly settled in my gut. Right between my stomach and heart. I can feel it burrowing deeper as I write this. Translating an idea to a rough draft to a final manuscript means taking something fundamentally transient (a story hook swimming in your head) and making it physical. Flesh and blood.


TWEET IT: Writing is taking the everything and turning it into the something. via @neilTfloyd

During this process, the idea becomes real and, consequently, gets complicated. The resulting book cannot be about everything. Even if the idea was your sweeping polemic on dozens of heady topics, it can't be about everything. Writing is taking the everything and turning it into the something. Ideally, that something will be sharp and refined, able to evoke emotions and cut like a knife from page one. But it can't be everything.

There will be scenes, themes, and characters you love that must get deleted. And by the time you finish, the book might be about something else entirely. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: books write themselves. Authors should consider themselves lucky just to be along for the ride.

So whenever the perfectionist in me wants to belittle this accomplishment of writing a whole damn book, I won't bend. I won't let him win. This is a hell of an accomplishment. Full stop. Refuse to let your unrealistic expectations detract from something worth celebrating. Because I will be celebrating. You should find something to celebrate, too. Pop the champagne. Put on the dress that's been taunting you from the back of the closet. Get a tattoo. Producing art is hard enough already. Don't make it more difficult by ruining the part that's supposed to be fun.