Finishing things

You know what? Finishing things is hard. I don’t want to undersell quite how difficult it is: for every project that finds its way to completion—no matter how imperfect—there are dozens, if not hundreds, that lie discarded along the way: some half-built, other nearly constructed but clearly faulty, still more that never really get out of the idea stage.

Despite saying as early as first grade that I wanted to be a writer, I didn’t finish a novel until I was 24. In the years up to that, I’d started countless stories, all of which usually petered out a few thousand words in. (One particularly valorous attempt, while I was studying abroad in Scotland and suffering from extreme homesickness reached maybe ten or twenty thousand words or so before it made its way to the dustbin.) But up until that first book I finished, I never quite had the discipline to make myself finish a story.

This comes to mind because this morning I finished the first draft of a book I’ve been working on for a couple years now. It’s been on and off at times, and I’ve tossed incomplete drafts and started over, then later gone back and reintegrated the material that I cut, and so on and so forth. And though this is the sixth novel that I’ve written to completion1, it’s the first new book that I’ve finished since 2012.2 Because it doesn’t really get any easier.

Years ago, I read an essay of Neil Gaiman’s, in which he related something he was told by legendary author Gene Wolfe:

“You never learn how to write a novel,” he said. “You just learn how to write the novel that you’re writing.”

Damn if that hasn’t stuck with me for the past decade or so.3 Sure, you learn and get better at the craft of writing as you go, but every novel is a different process. Just like the more you cook, the better you’ll probably get at the craft of cooking, but making a new dish is always going to be a bit of a learning experience.

There’s a lot of work left to do on this particular book before it’s ready for anybody else’s eyes, but I’m pretty bullish on it. (Good thing, too! Who wants to finish a book and not like it?) In large part that’s because it’s different from anything else I’ve really put my hand to before and, having come off writing a couple books set in the same world, it was nice to be able to shift gears and prove that I’ve got more than one idea. Hopefully more than one good idea, even, though that remains to be seen.

So: the new book currently weighs in at 92,000-plus words and is tentatively titled All Souls Lost. I’m looking forward to sharing it with all of you—well, when it’s finished for real, anyway.

  1. I mean that in the sense of just getting the whole story down on the page—there’s always more editing and rewriting to be done.

  2. And that book isn’t “done” in the sense that it’s currently with my beta readers, after which it has to go to my agent, who will probably have some thoughts, and so on.

  3. I’m not sure precisely when I read it, and Gaiman’s site doesn’t have a date for it, so that’s just a guess.