by Ben Schrank
Writing a novel should be fun. At the beginning, meander. Don’t be afraid to play around. Get lost. Fall down. Get dirty. The stakes aren’t high because whatever is written will be tossed, ideally without fret or regret. When I began to write Love Is a Canoe I thought I wanted to write about a girl who gets advice from her grandfather while paddling around in a canoe. I meandered for over a year before that girl turned into a boy. I wrote additional narratives that wandered far afield of the novel I would eventually complete, built complex lives at a country inn and indulged in pages of imagery and then, when I found characters I believed in (a senior publishing executive who had disappeared into her persona, an unhappy young married couple, a writer who wrote a popular book of advice on marriage) I wound their stories together. But on the way there, Peter Herman, the character who wrote the book within my book, Marriage is a Canoe, officiated at marriages and then got horribly drunk at them. He was attacked in his house by an unhappy married couple. He started work on a novel. I had a wild time at that wedding, was shocked at the violence an unhappy couple can inflict, and I plotted and wrote a lot of Peter Herman’s dirty, indulgent novel. Then I tossed it all.
Most, if not all, writers work through several drafts. The concept of the writer writing and then throwing material away is not new. But they never say they liked doing it. Julian Barnes says of first drafts in an interview with the Paris Review: “The pleasure of the first draft lies in deceiving yourself that it is quite close to the real thing. The pleasure of the subsequent drafts lies partly in realizing that you haven’t been gulled by the first draft.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan tells us, in an interview with CNN, that when she writes a novel, it may go through 50 or 60 drafts. Egan says: "The key is struggling a lot.”