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How long does each draft take?

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Woke up this morning, cranked through the final few pages, and, with much fear and excitement, wrote the final line of a novel. Not just any novel, mind you, but an old, old friend I first started more than 10 years ago, while toiling away in a workshop at Vanderbilt University under the tutelage of Tony Earley, John Halperin, and Lorraine Lopez. How was that first draft so many years ago? Terrible. Ugly. Melodramatic. But forever special and enduring because it was the first draft of the very first novel (for me, anyway).

After that first love (er, draft), there were other lovers (er, attempted novels) that came and went, occupied my mind, took years of effort and ultimately died on the drawing-room floor, and, though one of those novels (THE DISTRICT OF CAMELOT, the Literary Man’s CU MFA thesis) still might make it into the literary world alive, kicking and screaming, I’ve spent the last few months rewriting the novel of my youth, the long-ago forgotten love of sophomore year that has spent the last decade hiding in a desk, only to be exhumed in a fit of anger and impatience last January, in the height of frustration at how difficult it is to just sit and wait while editors and agents mull the prospect of turning your toil into something they can sell. What’s this long lost novel about? Well, it’s about college, and identity, and searching for long lost family members. But most of all, it’s this (thx Wikipedia):

A Künstlerroman (German pronunciation: [ˈkʏnstlɐ.ʁoˌmaːn]; plural -ane), meaning “artist’s novel” in German, is a narrative about an artist’s growth to maturity.[1] It may be classified as a specific sub-genre of Bildungsroman; such a work, usually a novel, tends to depict the conflicts of a sensitive youth against the values of a bourgeois society of his or her time.

Jimbo Joyce took years. Why can’t you?

Now, five months later, a new monster has emerged from those thorny undergraduate pages. All the while, I’ve been wondering whether this is normal. What say you, dear readers? Have you put a beloved draft of a book aside, only to resuscitate it years later and find that it’s still breathing, still viable, on editorial life support, waiting for an infusion of fresh energy and vigor? Joyce famously spent ten years working on THE PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, so maybe there’s hope for all of us, maybe patience is a virtue after all. Maybe it’s time to pick up that manuscript and start all over again!

About the Author

Literary Man

36 Comments to How long does each draft take?

  1. yeltnuh

    My drafts loiter and pout like the odds and ends at the back of an underwear drawer–kinda scary back there, not to mention embarrassing. Maybe someday I will be brave enough, but not yet.

  2. boomiebol

    I know I have started writing something with the idea of a novel and out of laziness and insecurity abandoned ship, then months later read it and got 2 short stories out of them. I still intend to make it a novel but I need to develop the characters better..

  3. T. W. Dittmer

    Not sure if I brought back out my first, or it pulled me back in, or it never let me go.
    It’s been suggested that it was a necessary emotional purge, and to tell the truth, I’m not sure. It just had to be done.

  4. homebythebay

    Love this! Bildungsroman is a word my 6th grade teacher–someone who fostered my love of writing–taught me, and I’ve never forgotten it since. My old friend holds a place of honor in my heart–and a place of honor in a special box atop my secretary desk. I will bring it back out to rewrite one of these days, but for now, life’s other priorities get top billing.

  5. N Filbert

    Yay! Congratulations! Kudos! I’m doing something similar over here

  6. Verbal Vixen

    I always said, after reading this book ten years ago, that this would be the book that would sell. So proud of you for facing the ghosts and giving it a new life.

  7. Elizabeth Plouffe

    Sometimes walking away gives us the perspective we need to preceive greatness. Or something trite like that … Congratulations !

  8. xxkultuur

    Inspirational. And Joyce is one of my favourites, despite my husband’s claims that I read to much “dark, Irish” stuff. I’m all for breathing new life into something that needed it.

  9. brandyeli

    Reblogged this on Brandy Elizabeth Nemeth-Shorten and commented:
    They never die, and not should they. Thank you for this post…

  10. thesecretmermaid

    Congratulations! I am in the midst of a similar process. That must be an amazing feeling. Your sophomore self would be proud!

    • theliteraryman

      Thx! It’s always scary to imagine telling a young writer in college that it might take 10 years to gain the perspective they really need. Patience cannot be overemphasized in this profession. . .

  11. ltownsdin

    Thanks for liking my post today. I liked your post too. In fact, I’m editing a novel I wrote five years ago and can now see flaws I missed in that first love draft. You said it so well.

  12. Jilanne Hoffmann

    I have three unfinished novels that I keep returning to. I gave birth to a human a little over 8 years ago, so I’ve been working on his development more than my novels. But I have the first of a trilogy of children’s stories with an agent right now. While I’m waiting to hear back, I’m sending out other stories to contests and doing the usual freelance work. As my son gets older, he requires less of my continual attention, so I will be crawling out from under the curse of the X chromosome and turning my focus back to the novels very soon.(P.S. I love my son dearly, but don’t let anyone tell you that being a mother won’t change your working life. I will add that having a child has deepened my understanding of the world, so with the guns come the roses.)

  13. Starbucks Refugee

    Well said. My current passion-project is a bildungsroman: a young man in a far-off land discovering the man he was becoming…and of course, there was a woman helping to bring the conflict to surface.
    I have enjoyed following your site. I find it a relevant place to visit.

  14. jeneeford

    I’ve been reworking the ending of a novel I wrote fifteen years ago. I just can’t seem to let it go. I think as we age, our perspectives on things change and then our drafts change along with them. Thanks for the thought-provoking post and the knowledge that I’m not the only one who lets drafts marinate for years!

    • theliteraryman

      There’s also something strangely comforting about knowing that these artifacts of ourselves are out there. . .like old black-and-white pictures, that we can dig out of the attic and indulge in moments of nostalgia. . .

  15. Ron Dionne

    I’ve done exactly what you describe — had a book, much beloved, win representation and almost a contract, then — nothing. For more than ten years. The agent that represented it moved on from agenting but kept in touch, and started up an ebook publishing company. He contacted me to see if my book was still available, and will be publishing it shortly. Keeping my fingers crossed…

  16. Sportbucket

    If you’re willing, I’d love to take a read. I’m curious to see what’s made the cut now that you’re a master of fine arts.

  17. paigeaddams

    Haha, I know just what you mean. The very first novel I wrote and actually finished is a little over 10 years old too. It was melodramatic and cringe-worthy to say the least – but its always had a special place in my heart. Its been through years of stop and go editing, three titles, and two complete overhauls so far, and I was afraid the poor thing was dead. But, I found a perfect place for it in the series I’m working on now, because its always been my favorite despite its flaws. :) And by the time I get to it in the series – which may not be until book 9 – it should almost be readable. :)

  18. Matthew C.

    Very good! I’m working on a draft, and it is taking forever, but these things don’t happen over night.

  19. Joyce

    If we nurture the story along, reworking, revising, resubmit when ready…, they become like an old friend after time and one we cannot let go of willingly. Better to have it abiding near our keyboard, so we can return to it and give it new hope, even if it takes a while before bringing it back to life. They become a part of us, regardless.

  20. jannatwrites

    I’ve not taken on a project like this, however, my first novel sits on a shelf unpublished. One day, I might dust it off and make revisions, but I’m not ready yet. Good luck on your “renovations” (yes, I watch too much HGTV) :)

  21. Vividhunter

    Congratulations on finishing the latest draft. The only ones I’ve finished are from my highschool years and… are really terrible. I can’t read them. They’ll just stay zipped in a folder forever I guess. ^^ I 10 years worth of unfinished drafts of various lengths because I’m a bit ADD, I think >< I'm determined the one I'm on currently will get finished!

  22. E A M Harris

    My first novel went through year’s long pauses, but since then I’ve got my act together more and have managed to change the time they spend lurking in drawers to ‘many months’.

  23. P. C. Zick

    Congratulations. Never discount incubation periods. I highly recommend it.

  24. Karen Wan

    I am working on my first novel which has been incubating for a long time. It was very helpful to read this post. Good to think of what I’m doing as writing an artist’s novel.

  25. Evelyn

    I hope so. Im struggling to finish my first novel started two years ago. its so frustrating. there is a big ol’ plot hole to fill and I have no ideas on how to fill it…

  26. Jim Maher

    I’ve got a children’s space opera that I’ve been working on for five years, and I keep coming back to it, writing furiously for a month, then it goes back into the safe drawer for a while longer. Good for you!

  27. chalkdustfairy

    Yes! I can relate to that sentiment. My stories are like children I’m not quite ready to push out of the nest. Someday, I hope (we’ll both be ready). Thank you for the like on my post.

  28. [email protected]

    Years later. Are you frigging mad? If you write a draft and spend all that time and energy get that damn thing out