I’m finishing the first draft revisions this weekend. Hey, I’m going to Turkey next weekend (!). So I have to finish it this weekend—personal goal, one of my 2011 resolutions. Whatever it is by this weekend, that’s what it will be–though it’s still a first draft. What is it like? A little bit of Salman Rushdie, a bit of Michael Chabon and a bit of Looney Tunes. My literary role models right now are Chabon and Nick Harkaway.
Three years, eight months, and one hundred and twenty thousand words later, the messy first draft of my novel is done! Now to start reading it over. It’s messy, so this is like the alpha or something, like v 0.843. I’ll read it and spend a couple of weeks revising it before even considering it an official v 1.0 first draft (which itself is only the first of many future drafts…). I’m a little apprehensive, to be honest. This past year, I blazed through the draft. I was ticked off at myself for taking so long (never mind that I had a lot of structural decisions to make). Maybe 10 months ago, I was at something like 50,000 words, and now I’m at 120,000. So I really blazed through. I said to myself, “Don’t worry about making it perfect, just make it. It will be perfect later.” I kicked myself in the ass and have managed to end up with this thing, whatever it is, but I know I can do better—the gap between good taste and the thing I’ve made. Keep doing the work, that’s how you close the gap.
Writing 140 characters is difficult if one is trying to say something with poignancy. It’s hard to tell the truth in a tiny box, because the truth is so big and round and gray. Most things I write are crude and awkward, overly unrelenting, not capable of holding the necessary nuance for a confession or an insight. One can’t go too deep in a stunted format. But still, it kind of feels like writing because my fingers are flying, there is that sound of the keyboard, that row of letters getting longer, that momentum of the cursor pushing right. But, it’s not the same as lengthier writing, because it doesn’t necessarily take us anywhere.
Lengthier writing is hard, because it requires one to commit to it. One must be alone. One can not write in a group. One must step away, shut off the world. What do I think? How do I feel? What is this itch? How can I scratch it? Why am I so sad? Why did this make me happy? What’s it like being a father? Why did that project work? What did I learn?
Style is a writer’s way of telling the truth. Literary success or failure, by this measure, depends not only on the refinement of words on a page, but in the refinement of a consciousness, what Aristotle called the education of the emotions.
–Zadie Smith, “Fail Better“
You are going to do this. There is no stopping you. You’ve made your decision, and nothing will stand in your way, God willing. There is no fear. This is a fait accompli. All doubt is merely stage fright, the fear of imperfection. The only way to achieve perfection is through imperfection. You chip that im- prefix away, day by day. There is no delay in the chipping. The word perfection is already there, waiting. If you don’t chip at it, you are stuck with imperfection. That is unacceptable. You see your goal. You aren’t just writing a book; you are creating literature; you are creating a work of art. There is no compromise. There is no PlayStation3. There is only determined, indomitable pursuit of the goal you have set for yourself, which you will achieve. There is no question. You will write a stunningly beautiful work of literature. You will. Day by day. Don’t fear the mountain when all you have to do each day is walk a few steps. The mountain will cooperate if you simply climb one step at a time. So walk. Everyone knows you are a fantastic writer. They will say it can’t be done, that it shouldn’t be done, that people don’t read. But they don’t know what you know. They are the naysayers, the fearful—or they are those who have seen and know it can be done, and see that you will be one of those to do it. All you have to do is walk. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect the first time. You won’t give up. You will make it stronger with each passing day until it is indestructible. You will not be afraid. You may not have all the answers but you will ask all the questions and you will find a way over, under, around or through. You may not know the answers, but not turning away despite not knowing is what makes you a man, an artist, a writer. You show up anyway, saying that you don’t have the answer, and working through that unknowing until you’ve put down words on the page. If they are the wrong ones, you will know, either sooner or later, and you will write the right ones. But first you need to cast out the wrong ones so what you have left, after searching within yourself, will be the right ones. Do not be afraid, and do not give up, ever. Remember who you were, who you are, and know who you will be. Decide that. Pray.