Can I actually pull this off?
How to resist the siren song of starting over, vegan shrimp tacos, the first best book of 2023, and feeling alive again.
I’m deep into the fourth (fifth? sixth? I’ve lost count) draft of my novel, after receiving some solid feedback from my agent.
At first, this revision was a breeze. It was easy to tighten the beginning, to rearrange the first few chapters and cut some dead weight. After eight months away, I could single out the moments where I was clearing my throat, the literary equivalent of jogging a few warm up laps before the marathon.
Now, however, I’m revising the back half of the book, and it’s a lot harder.
By the time you get to the third act, you’re backed into a corner. Decisions have been made. Characters have shown their hand. The possibilities are no longer endless. You’re running out of time, yet the closer you get to the end, the further away it feels. You start to wonder if you can actually pull this off, or if it would be better to delete the whole book and start over from scratch. Remember how easy the beginning was? Wouldn’t it feel good to spend more time there?
That’s where I was last week. Where I am right now, to be honest. Frustrated by the whole endeavor. Annoyed at the choices I’ve made. Wondering if any of this is salvageable, or if I’m just wasting my time.
Last summer, when I was taking a break from my novel, I wrote about how living a creative life requires faith, a belief that the next idea, the next flash of inspiration, will come when you’re ready to receive it. Now, as I struggle with the end of this book, I realize how much faith matters when you’re in it.
How many of us have started a lofty project—a book, a quilt, a job, a class, a marriage—and quit halfway through, when things got hard? Not every project is worth finishing—sometimes quitting is truly the best option—but when you’re in the messy middle, it’s hard to see where the potential lies. When you’re not sure how things will end, it’s hard to know if you’re on the right path. The only way to find out is to keep going. The only way to figure it out is to finish.
Some people are afraid to start things, because they don’t know if it’ll be worth it in the end. What if I write a whole book, and no one publishes it? What if I take this job, and get laid off six months later? What if I marry this person, and end up wanting to kill them?
And, well, yeah. You might take a wrong turn, make a wrong choice. You might have to do the hard work of starting over, long after you thought things would be easy.
I spent two years writing the first draft of this book, and I liked it a lot. I was proud of it. But when I started pulling at the threads, thinking about the characters, imagining what else might be possible, the story began to change. The last third of the book fell apart, and something new began to form in its place. Right now, that thing is messy. Sometimes (most of the time) I worry that I’m making the book worse instead of better. But I have faith in the story; I have faith in myself. I’ll get to the end so I can see the whole thing, the mess I’ve made, the story I’ve told. And then, if I need to start over, I will.
After all, starting over is the easy part.
When we went to Italy last year, we did fun things like rent bicycles, drink in picturesque places, and eat delicious dinners. As it turns out, you can do all those things at home, too! Last weekend we tested this theory with a bike ride to our favorite brewery, and then dinner at our favorite vegan restaurant, where I had the Baja Shrimp Tacos with a side of plantains. It was a great date night and a lovely excuse to play tourist in our own town. 🍤
📚 Reading: I finally finished Now Is Not the Time to Panic, which walked the perfect line between “profound” and “bonkers”—my favorite combination. Without giving too much away, it’s about how art transcends the artist. You can make something, but you can’t own it—once it’s in the world, it takes on its own life, has its own consequences. I also recently read and mostly enjoyed The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, which, in addition to having an alarming title (I’M OKAY, I SWEAR) could have been an essay instead of a whole book.
🖱Clicking: This piece about how some books are using dating apps as a literary device. Exactly how big should a sustainable wardrobe be? (I was way off.) As the eldest daughter of three girls, I concur. Ann Friedman reflects on 10 years of a newsletter practice, as only Ann Friedman can.
📺 (Re)watching: All of Party Down, in preparation for the new season. I forgot how funny it is—darker than Parks & Rec, but kinder than Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
🌱Growing: The baby chicks are now ten days old, and they’re doing great. Still adorable, and still fairly low maintenance. In the garden, we sowed peas and beets. The peas are sprouting nicely, the beets, not so much. This week is supposed to be cold again (we had a false spring in February) so I’m hoping that will help.
🤤 Eating: This roasted vegetable grain bowl, specifically the kale pepita pesto, which I am making in bulk with kale from our winter garden. Falafel salads for lunch every day. Microgreens on everything.
📈 Feeling: Really good, honestly! We have some fun travel coming up in the next few months, I started going to run club and the rock gym again, work is a roller coaster but I’m learning to adapt, and DST has arrived. I hope you’re feeling just as good!
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Thanks for sharing your struggles with editing and revising. It is time for me to revise my first draft, and it somehow feels even more daunting and challenging than starting with a blank page. My mentor always says, "Love the work, not your story," and sometimes that is easier said than done! Good luck as you push through.
I am also in the process of editing my third act which I rewrote entirely in the last draft and I was quite enjoying the editing process but now I’ve hit the third act I’m terrified and convinced that I need to burn it to the ground and start again. I won’t, thankfully, but it’s a constant close call as I try to make it to the end again!