On Easter Sunday I did something I’d been fantasizing about for a long time: I wrote the last paragraph, the last sentence, the last period of my novel. As it happened, the day was warm and sunny, and I wrote this long awaited conclusion (long awaited by me, that is) with a pencil, sitting at an outdoor table drinking coffee. It was about as idyllic a literary moment as one could wish for.
Then I got up, went to my non-idyllic laptop, typed the conclusion into the huge Word file that contains my novel, and I thought, “Okay, 610 pages to revise, chop, edit. But not today.”
This has been a long project. The novel is set in Hungary in 1951 and is tentatively titled Voice. I have been writing this novel for about three-and-a-half years, although if I include research in the calculation, five years might state it more accurately. The preliminary chapter I wrote back in the beginning has long since been thrown out; I once read a quote from an author that said you basically have to sacrifice the first 100 pages to figure out what you’re doing, and that certainly was true in my case. After dumping a lot in the electronic trash I came up with a beginning that sort of worked as a launch point, and I managed enough of an outline that I could at least aim at something as I wrote. Along the way I continued to do more research. Historical details and the needs of the story began reshaping my original vision: I ended up changing the age of the male protagonist, Péter, and deepening his problems; and I threw more challenges to Katalin, the female lead, than I had first planned for her. Subplots arose and in some cases ended up going into the trash like my original first chapter. But this is all part of improving the work. If I weren’t willing to make adjustments—sometimes big ones—I would be wasting my own time.
The finished manuscript is pretty ungainly. The second half, not surprisingly, is a lot more focused than the first half, because by the time I had written 300 pages I was doing less wandering in the dark. Now the daunting task of revision lies ahead of me. Some of my writer friends, as well as a professional author, will be reviewing the manuscript for me and helping me refine it. (My husband has already read the manuscript, and like a loyal husband, he loved it.) I know that in some parts of the book the revisions will need to be pretty deep, and I don’t expect this work to go quickly. But I’m very excited to have come to this point. The diamond is still rough, but there is enough sparkle there to keep me hoping and honing.
The problem with having finished the rough draft is that I miss my characters. I was so used to dealing with them on a daily basis, checking in with them and handing them more aggravations. Well, there is always the revision stage. Péter and Katalin, see you soon.