One Year In—Writing the Novel: Rebecca Makkai

After one year of writing my novel, I took stock of what I’d accomplished—which seemed like very little. Would writing always feel like flailing? How do novelists find their way through? For guidance, I turned to published novelists, whose interviews are presented in the One Year In: Writing the Novel series. 

Today’s novelist is fellow Ploughshares blogger Rebecca Makkai,  the author of the novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House (forthcoming in 2014), and Music for Wartime, a story collection (forthcoming in 2015).

ImageRumor has it The Borrower developed over the course of nine years. Not to sound like your mother, but what took you so long? 

It’s funny, I’m actually a very fast writer, so the “nine years” thing is kind of misleading.

It was really nine years start to finish, the first few years of which were just wimpy outlining. I refused even to refer to it as a novel for about five years—just “this longer thing I’m working on.” I was very young (21) when I started it, and I was fortunately smart enough to realize I had no real business writing a novel. It took nine years not because I was drafting, but because I was growing up and figuring out how to write.

Did writing your first novel prepare you in any way for writing your second?

I think that if your first novel fully prepared you for writing your second, that would be a very bad sign. If it doesn’t feel completely foreign and new and like you’re working without a net, then you’re probably repeating yourself.Continue Reading

One Year In—Writing the Novel: Benjamin Percy

After one year of writing my novel, I took stock of what I’d accomplished—which seemed like very little. Would writing always feel like flailing? How do novelists find their way through? For guidance, I turned to published novelists, whose interviews are presented in the One Year In: Writing the Novel series.

Today’s novelist is Benjamin Percy, the author of two story collections as well as two novels, The Wilding and Red Moon.  

Benjamin PercyHow long did it take you to write each of your novels? 

That’s hard to track, because I never work on any one project exclusively. I’ll take a break from the novel to work on a screenplay, a short story, an article or essay, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a few months, however long it takes for me to feel renewed and ready to tackle the monster again.

I was twenty-eight when I sold my first novel, The Wilding, but it had a lengthy editorial road ahead of it since the original first-person narrative was more shnovel than novel. I set it aside for a long time before bullying it into shape, in part because I moved from Wisconsin to Iowa and was distracted by a new job and an old house that required a lot of renovation, and in part because the revision seemed so daunting. That makes for two years total? Maybe more a little more than that.

Red Moon was also spaced out weirdly. I wrote sixty-five pages and an outline at the start of the summer of 2010, and I started cranking out the pages in November. I worked steadily for a solid year—I had to, because they had a strict deadline. I was hammering eight to ten hours a day and within a year, I had seven hundred pages. This manuscript went through a brutal overhaul. I threw out hundreds of pages and added hundreds more. The book was considered complete and satisfactory in March of 2012. So what does that add up to? A year and half?

So, at the “One Year In” point— as compared to its published form— you’d say that Red Moon was like…

Ore that required a lot of refining.Continue Reading