Patience has never been my virtue. There have been several times I've decided, this is it. This book is done. I've tinkered with it long enough and it will never get better than this.
And then it does.
So I keep tweaking and deleting and rewriting and reorganizing and polishing. And then I do all that again. And again.
I was heartened my first semester when my then-advisor told me he'd revised his award-winning novel 17 times. I was heartened again when I had a discussion with my now-advisor about prologues, and how she'd initially written a prologue for her book, then changed it, then scattered parts of it through the book, and then eventually did away with it altogether.
And then last week I read Edgar Sawetelle, by David Wroblewski. This is the pedigree for Edgar Sawtelle:
David Wroblewski is the author of the internationally bestselling novel The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle, a 2008 Oprah Book Club pick, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, winner of the 2008 Colorado Book Award, Indie Choice Best Author Discovery award, and the Midwest Bookseller Association's Choice award. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was selected as one of the best books of 2008 by numerous magazines and newspapers around the country, and has been translated into over 25 languages.
Not too shabby, eh? I'm not typically a fan of Oprah-endorsed books. Clearly she and I have very different tastes. But this book was everything the awards say it is. Sublime, lovely, gorgeous, haunting.
But what I love love loved about my copy of the book was that it had an extensive author interview. I love author interviews!! (And as an aside, I totally fell for David in it. Despite all the acclaim and publicity he's gotten, he seems very humble and down to earth and somebody I'd utterly love conversing with over a cup of coffee.)
What impressed me most in the interview was a question about putting some of the chapters from a dog's point of view. David's answer was inspirational to me, not because it gave me some great insight into point of view, but because it revealed that he'd worked on this book for years. Years, people!! Two years in his MFA program, and then years after that, when he finished it, changed it, revised it, altered the entire point of view (which originally had been first person but ended up being mostly third).
It makes me realize that sometimes, the really good stuff only comes with time.
I don't think taking longer on my debut book would have helped. I still think that book was ready to go after nine months, and although it may not be the book I'd write now, it's the book it needed to be.
But this book - this current work in progress - needs time. I won't be rushed, because I don't want to throw it out there until it's really ready. Something I can be truly proud of. Right now it's not. And I'm okay with that, mostly because the more I work on it, the exponentially better it gets. (Which isn't to say it's great, mind you. It started out pretty stinky...)
What about you? How long do you think you'd be willing to work on something - not just writing but anything - before saying, "That's enough. What I have now is going to have to be good enough"?