Monday, February 23, 2015

Rachel Weaver: Am I Ever Going to Finish Writing This Book?

When I first started writing a novel, I was living year round in Petersburg, AK. I was a scientist who had read a lot of books and had always, secretly wanted to write one. I did not think of myself as a writer, but had a lot of time on my hands in the winter (this was pre-husband and pre-twin boys) and thought I’d give it a whirl. I got addicted, fast. It was so fun to make stuff up. I loved creating characters, putting them in all sorts of situations and imagining what would happen. I loved watching the landscape of Alaska come alive on the page. I wrote all the time. With every fifty pages completed on my computer, I would start the generator to print them out, add them to the pile and stare at how big the stack of papers was getting to be. One afternoon, at the Harbor Bar, I sat across from my friend and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with all these people who take ten years to finish a book, I’m going to be done in six months.”
Wrong! Turns out, what I finished in six months was a really really rough first draft. But I didn’t know that then. I had an impressive stack of papers, with a good looking cover page and lots of things happened between page 1 and page 342. So, imagining I had finished one book, I naturally started another.
At some point the following fall after the busy summer season, it dawned on me that maybe the book I had busted out in six months needed a second go-through, maybe the plot wasn’t quite as tight as it had seemed. As I read through, lots of things nagged at me as a reader. I could identify what wasn’t quite lining up right, but I didn’t know how to dissect those things to the point of figuring out how to fix them. This is actually the point at which I started to become a writer. Once I slowed down, once I was willing to pull apart what I had and try to puzzle my way more toward the truth of the action, the subtle intricacies of the plot; that’s when I started to learn. This is also when I started to wonder about the whole book writing thing. Was I going to drive myself crazy? If it took me a whole week to figure out the first five pages, was I going to lose my mind by page 200?
What I have come to realize is that it’s actually the process of rewriting that makes you a writer.  There is a certain level of tenacity, a dedication to the long process of improving your craft that gets you across the finish line. Almost ten years to the day I made that statement in the Harbor Bar, that novel was published. I wrote it somewhere between twenty and twenty-five times. For me, this was the process of learning how to write a book, how to watch the world as a writer, and ultimately how to trust myself despite lots of rejection, lots of disappointing realizations along the way that I still had a long ways to go and lots of moments of pure elation when all the pieces of a scene or chapter fell into place. I was still addicted, I still loved it, even though in those ten years, I swung violently between feeling 100% committed to the writing path and thinking I should burn the book in the backyard, become a banker and wear nice shoes.
I don’t have nice shoes, I have practical shoes and a book that to me represents the fact that I didn’t give up despite a fair amount of evidence that I probably should have. So, the answer is yes, you are going to finish that book. As long as you keep your head down and continually rededicate yourself to improving your craft. I believe that you do not just write a book. You work at a book, you let it change you as you change it, you both grow together and in the end you hold that bound copy in your hands and you realize that it represents so much more of you than you could ever explain.
Rachel Weaver is the author of the novel Point of Direction, named to Oprah Magazine’s May 2014 Top Ten Titles to Pick Up Now and described by NPR’s All Things Considered as the type of book that “pulls you in”. Rachel is on the fiction faculty at Regis University’s low residency MFA program. She will be teaching a workshop entitled “Writing the Three Dimensional Novel or Memoir” for 49 Writers in Anchorage on February 28th and in Juneau on March 2nd and 3rd. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rachel.
As somebody who has also swung wildly between commitment to the book vs burning it, I appreciate this piece!
I've just picked it up after ignoring it for years and am again enjoying the process. True what you say here:
"I believe that you do not just write a book. You work at a book, you let it change you as you change it."