I haven’t decided if this title should be emphasized this way—I am a writer—or this way—I am a writer. Of course, I could just give in to total emphasis and yell: I AM A WRITER, but that isn’t the point, not even close.
At the end of December 2020 (the day after my birthday to be exact), I started the novel that I’d been meaning to write for the last fifty-plus years. It came out of me easily, so I wondered if it was so verbose because I’ve lived alone for more than ten years and this was just all the talking I hadn’t done for that time. From an idea, it developed into what I could envision to be three novels of over 177,000 words, and it was finished at the end of February 2021: two months of ten-hours-a-day writing. I was so proud of what I’d created!
Then, I asked a friend and former colleague to be my editor. She was reluctant at first (I suspect this was the case because she remembered how dogmatic I could be), but ultimately agreed. We started to meet once a week. In three months, we had managed a first revision. My editor insisted this took so little time because I was prolific; I think it’s because I’m of an age that (a la Marvell) “at my back I always hear/ Time’s winged chariot drawing near.” I’m panicked that I’ll die before I can get this done.
It’s now seven months later. The novel has been edited—including by an incredible professional editor (Ms Elizabeth Kracht)—and rewritten more times than I care to count. It is, in fact, headed in August for its second professional edit. I’ve altered the structure a few times, I’ve cut and added material almost every day, I’ve rethought some aspects of the characters, and the ending has seen complete transformations.
What I’ve learned is that, at least for me, writing is easy; it’s my talent. What is work—hard, grinding, living-in-nightmares work—is the craft of writing. The “art” part comes from an innate ability (talent) over which I have little control, except to turn it on or off; I have no control over its quality at any given point. The craft, however, is another matter. It is the challenge, the agony, the pain. It is, I have learned, what makes me a novelist rather than a autobiographer or a historical essayist. The novel started as almost 100% “true” as I recalled it. Now, almost a year later, it is almost 100% imaginative narrative: the truth is no longer “what happened” but what should happen relative to the logical structure, no longer what “the character did” but what he and she had to do because of the personality and traits I gave him/her. The truth is the fiction now.
The novel has now slimmed down to a svelte 99,000 words. There is still more to discard, I know, and I have to believe that all the stories, incidents, ideas that will disappear from these pages will still live in my heart and—who knows?—show up yet again in another fiction I may create one day. Assuming I’m still alive, of course.