Monday, February 7, 2011

A Cathedral Full of Fire

Thanks to a fellow tweeter, I came across this great article in the Guardian featuring writer Michael Cunningham. One quote in particular stood out:

"I always find that the novel I'm finishing, even if it's turned out fairly well, is not the novel I had in mind. I think of lot of writers must negotiate this, and if they don't admit it, they're not being honest. You have started the book with this bubble over your head that contains a cathedral full fire--that contains a novel so fast and great and penetrating and bright and dark that it will put all other novels written to shame. And then, as you get towards the end, you begin to realize, no, it's just this book. And it has its strengths, it has its virtues, but there's nothing about the Crimean war, there's nothing about interstellar travel. It says what it says and that's it. And it joins all the other books in the world."

This sums up how I feel about my current manuscript. It is already so much different from what I had in mind when I started and what I wrote in my first draft (previously known as the Vomit Draft). I've already eliminated entire chapters, killed off some characters I thought would play central roles, and have even changed some of the key motivators driving the main character to do the (often stupid) things he does.

Despite how frustrating that may sound, however, I find the process invigorating. The story is becoming a story, not an attempt to become the Great Novel. The characters are becoming who they will be, and chances are they aren't going to be Madame Bovaries (apologies, Gustave) or Brothers Karamazov or Willy Lomans. All I can do, at this point, is get the story down, and be grateful if it's given the opportunity to "join all the other books in the world."

How do you handle your own cathedrals full of fire?