I finished the sixth draft of The Resident last week. I would celebrate except there's nothing more humbling than writing a novel. It exposed the limitations of my vocabulary. My soft grasp of language. The logical holes in my thinking.
I came to the end of each day - two and a half years of writing in isolation - dazed by the suspension of disbelief. Squinting at the sun. Wondering what time it was. What global events had occurred while I was away. I haven't kept up with friends like I should have. I don't know who is in the college basketball playoffs.
Are you okay Ben? - asked over and over again at dinner.
The first draft was easy. The story laid bare. But it was too short. Too shallow. It took four more drafts to develop the characters, build out the plot, introduce subplots. Characters appeared out of nowhere and introduced themselves to me. I put aside the fourth draft and waited a month. I read it again and nearly vomited at my own writing. Who wrote this garbage? I screamed to Ainsley.
I rewrote the entire thing.
I sent the fifth draft to an accomplished editor of fiction and held my breath. She encouraged me in the right ways and parted the clouds for me in others. I saw the story in a whole new light. She encouraged me to kill my darlings. So I did.
Twenty thousand of them.
And now the sixth draft. My editor is reading it on the plane home from AWP. I'm not done yet. I read that Neil Gaiman said it takes eight drafts to take hold of a book. I believe it. Another subplot emerged in my mind over the weekend.
Finishing things is not a problem I have. It's finishing things in which I have no expertise with my dignity intact. But this is my more noble pursuit. I stopped writing fiction in high school for a more practical life. I even started a conference called STORY because it's easier to talk about creating one than creating one.
But my story lives. It's here in a parallel universe existing right alongside ours. I am chiseling the rock day by day, doing my best to set the angel free.
It's been trapped in there for a long time.