Friday, May 25, 2012

Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 3: The Longer Work

Writing a full-length book of any genre is not like writing a chapter of a book of prose, or like writing a short story or poem. You can’t polish off a first draft of an entire book in one sitting. You’ve got to pace yourself.
You don’t actually know when you start to write a full-length book how long it will take. Most likely it will take years. To embark on and finish a project that lengthy you have to be patient with yourself. You’re not going to do your best work every day, or even every week. Maybe not even once a month, depending on your work habits.
Some books spill out of a writer like the Trevi Fountain, others an author has to gather one morsel at a time, like an ant carrying bits of ripe leaves to its nest. The novelist John Fowles once said in an interview that he wrote the entire first draft of The French Lieutenant’s Woman in three weeks. That's very unusual. Marcel Proust spent his entire adult life writing one many-volume novel, In Search of Lost Time, also translated into English as Remembrance of Things Past. That's equally unusual.
However long it takes to write your book, keep at it, accumulate that manuscript one page at a time. Build towards the complete vision you have of the finished book.
If you start to get bored with your project, that’s a sign you’re heading down a dead end. You can’t get your reader interested in a part of your book that you don’t enjoy writing, or that doesn’t satisfy or fulfill some deep impulse in you. Go back to where you started to get bored, cut the part that doesn’t interest you, and find a more exciting direction. Do something unexpected, off-balance, kooky, kinky—as long as it fits with the rest of the project.
Writing about something that interests you may seem like a simple proposition, but there are times when that question can create an earthquake in your life, bursting all the pipes.
I once went to hear the New York School painter Larry Rivers speak. Larry Rivers was a friend of several writers, especially the poet Frank O’Hara. In fact, Rivers drew the cover illustration for The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara, a sketch of the poet naked. That night I went to hear him, someone in the audience asked Larry Rivers a dumb question, probably one he’d heard a hundred times before: “Why do you paint?” But Larry Rivers’ answer deeply impressed me: “Because there’s something I want to see.”  So simple, but so precise. Yes, we write because there’s something we want to see in a book, there’s something we wish we could read. Write the book you want to read.

Other recent posts on writing topics:
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer

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