My first novel, The Last Night, was published two weeks ago, and I can tell you that editing this story at various points in my life brought up the problem of writing style.
The book took almost five years (off and on) to write, but I finished the manuscript three years ago. That means some of the earliest elements are eight years old, with relatively small editions dating back only a few weeks. Over the course of such a long period of time, one’s writing is going to change—a lot.
The Last Night is penned in an economical style, with parts akin to Hemingway since he was one of my influences in college. Some of the sentences are beautiful in their simplicity, but were I to start the manuscript from scratch today, I doubt I’d write some of the lines the same way again.
This conflict gave rise to various questions.
Should I change this sentence to bring it closer to my current writing style?
This would open a can of worms. If I’d begun down this road, I would have to rewrite most of the book.
Also, “my current writing style” is misleading because each project creates its own requirements. “The current manuscript I’m drafting” is the more specific phrase, and my current approach happens to be in the third person with a stronger authorial voice.
This method doesn’t apply to The Last Night since I believe (ultimately) that I fashioned the story in the way it needed to be told.
This book is written in the first person, so shouldn’t I keep the voice consistent?
The narrator, Ed Cohen, is a matter-of-fact individual. This aspect of his personality creates conflict with some of the other characters, which is integral to the plot. While some sentences were just too terse for my current sensibilities, it made sense to leave the majority of the lines alone.
This book is my first novel and represents a particular moment in my career, as well as a particular time in history.
While it’s not quite a question, it does ask one: Shouldn’t I keep true to that voice that’s over three years old rather than try to infuse it with more modern tones?
I changed some scenes that I felt could be stronger or flow better, but if I’d updated something as broad as tone, I could be rewriting this book my entire life just to keep up with that line of thinking. I don’t want to be Walt Whitman rewriting Leaves of Grass for the rest of my days. I want to move onto other projects, which will, of course, be met with varying degrees of success. There comes a point where you have release your work into the wild. Otherwise, nothing would get published.
One of my favorite lines on creativity is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” I agree with the master’s assessment. There will always be elements I’d like to change about this book, even parts that I haven’t thought of yet. My perfectionist self had to finally accept that there comes a point when “good enough” is better than “perfect.” That moment—reached only after exponential rounds of revision—ultimately comes down to a gut feeling.
If you don’t like the gut feeling assessment, since our guts are subject to change, then take the advice of my thesis advisor Shelly Lowenkopf: “The book is ready when you’re making changes only you will notice.”
Either way, the story eventually will be complete.