Writing Life,  Writing Process

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

It’s been seven years since I started writing my first book, And I Will Give You As Many Roast Bones As You Need. Although it has only been about two years since I chose that title. The book has changed a lot over the years. It used to be 250 pages long. The last full draft was 335 pages. Half a dozen chapters were dropped. Some of that information was cannibalized in other essays. The end of one essay became a separate essay altogether. Chapter 17 recently became Chapter 3. Chapter 1 became Chapter 8. A new opening chapter was written. A few chapters were originally written as separate essays that were meant to give me a break from the book. One chapter went from 6,000 words to 20,000 to 13,000. I have no idea how to write a book, but for some reason, it has been coming together recently.

Today, I submitted three chapters for publication in various literary journals. I recently finished the chapters. I poured over every last word. Now, I switch to other chapters still in need of work. How I describe the progress of the book is this: 1/3 of the chapters are locked (either published or being sent out for publication), 1/3 is close (another 2 or 3 drafts each–I regularly do 30 – 40 drafts per essay), and 1/3 is a mess. The most difficult part of writing the book, to me, is working up the courage (and I do mean courage) to work on that messy 1/3. One chapter needs to be completely rewritten from the ground up (Chapter 3, which used to be Chapter 17). I have been dragging my feet on it for a week. I brainstormed. I made notecards. I did research. I dragged my feet on the actual writing.

It’s so much better to read the chapters that are nearly complete, when all I have to do is line edit and look at the work proud that I accomplished something I like. But I know I need to spend more time on the rough chapters. It feels so good to figure one of those chapters out, but reading them makes the book seem so far off from being finished. It’s been seven years. Seven long years. Seven years and eight apartments, three states, three girlfriends, two graduate degrees (MFA and PhD), and a cat. I am ready for the next project.

But I also cannot let those seven years go to waste. The book is so much better than I thought I could ever make it, even with the rough chapters. A little more work. Another year. Or two. Or three. And I might have something I’ll be proud of for the rest of my life.

So the work continues, I guess.

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