My five month long professional leave ended on January 25. When I told friends that I was back at work three weeks ago at Wellesley College, where I teach writing, and that I had just finished the 500-page first draft of a novel the day before I was to return to the classroom, many of them sweetly congratulated me and asked me when it would be “out,” that is, published, as though this would be imminent. When would it be on Kindle? In paperback? Or maybe hardcover?
Don’t talk about your book, one writer friend advised me, after we discussed my next steps in revising the overly long and unwieldy draft. So in this post, I won’t be talking about my book. I will be talking about the process of writing a book, a novel or a long work of creative nonfiction.
When the first draft is completed, it’s only a very, very preliminary thing. It’s a lot like saying, I went off birth control and I’m trying to get pregnant now. Or, it’s like, the pregnancy test came back positive, and in nine months I hope to be a mother. So, special vitamins, maternity clothes, no alcohol, pregnancy exercise class, childbirth class and those breathing exercises, readying the baby’s room, buying a crib, a stroller, and a changing table, the doctors visits–all that and more.
The delivery of this particular baby is likely a lot farther off than nine months.
As my beta readers plow (or trudge, more likely) through this book-to-be– and thank God for beta readers– making notes and compiling suggestions about what to ditch, what to fine-tune, what to rework or replot, I’m reverse outlining, hoping I can arrive at a coherent strategy for tightening the structure.
Then, there’s executing all that, possibly an enormous reworking of the story.
Then, there’s focusing on style, diction, tone.
Then, there’s copyediting and line editing.
Then, there’s searching high and low to find an agent or a small publisher willing to take a chance on a debut novelist.
So don’t ask me about the novel.
Ask me about my classes this semester, enthusiastic students open to hearing my thoughts on their writing.
Ask me about the three dozen poems I published during my leave of absence from teaching.
Just don’t bring up the novel–yet.