I write a book the way a painter covers a canvas, the way a scientist arrives at the lab, the way a baker arrives in the kitchen. I have an idea in my mind of what I want to create, what I want to discover. It’s a bit fuzzy at first with soft edges, a hypothesis, a dream.
I start to sketch some lines, some ideas, a recipe via my outline. It’s broad at first and then gets more and more refined as the story becomes clear in my mind. I experiment by writing some passages, bits of dialogue, setting descriptions, and character sketches. I watch and listen and read. Then I add some more lines and then maybe some color and shading with scenes that are more fleshed out with more detail and more purpose. Every draft is adding more detail, more information, more frosting.
My point in this metaphor is that I don’t see editing as onerous. An artist doesn’t paint a canvas in one sitting. A scientist doesn’t prove a theory in one trial of one experiment. A baker doesn’t perfect a recipe in one swift action. It takes multiple efforts over a very long time. It’s trial, error, and trial again.
First, I have to zoom way out. I take in the whole world surrounding my characters, the context in which they live their lives. Then I move closer step-by-step, taking note of the details, the times they live in, the circumstances swirling around them. Eventually, I’m standing beside them, eavesdropping on their interactions. And finally, they’re telling me their deepest darkest secrets.
We don’t get to know someone all at once. Their story unfolds for us over time. The same is true for my books. I wish there was a short route, an easier, faster path. To date, I haven’t found one and honestly I think that’s for the best. What builds slowly, lasts. I have no doubt that eventually every story will come into focus. Much of that is out of my control. What I can do is show up every day and get down what’s clear in the moment.
I say this to myself as much as I say it to you: give yourself a break. Just keep showing up and getting it down as best you can. Just keep moving forward a step at a time. You can’t do it all, all at once. Just do today’s part today. Refinement takes time.