If a Novel Were a Math Problem

Watching the vast majority of my non-artsy, analytically minded friends go into computer-science and mathematics makes me jealous sometimes. In their field, there’s such a thing as a right answer.

That’s attractive sometimes. As a girl who’d rather draft another two novels than spend a few months editing the one she has, I’m not too enamoured of revision and fine-tuning. I tend to catch myself thinking in binary ideas, and dismissing everything that can’t be described in yes-or-no terms. Is my novel drafted yet? No? Then I better keep working on it until I can say YES! Editing does not have the same simplicity, because you can always do more editing. No matter how thoroughly you go through a piece, there are always stylistic improvements to be made. Even once the plot is solid and whole thing feels complete from a macro-view, sentence structure and word choice can be nitpicked ad infinitum. That’s why I hold myself to such high personal standards when drafting in the first place. Some authors have a blissful anything-goes mentality about a first draft, but my approach is to end up with a product that requires the least amount of editing.

Editing is, for me, the greatest drudgery associated with crafting a book, simply because it never ends. You never solve for x, you never find the solution. You just keep going until it’s “good enough.” Maybe that would change if I had a really professional editor helping me with the process, but until then I have no idea how to polish my manuscripts well enough on my own.

Of course, the upside to this is that there is always progress. Once you have a novel drafted, no matter where you are in editing, you can show someone a finished product and just admit, “it’s still a little raw.” Others can help you finish editing, too. There’s no such thing as being proud of a half-solved math problem though, or letting someone solving the last three steps of it. As much as I wish I could sometimes just declare, AHA! I have the right answer, and forevermore am done with this challenge, it’s really probably for the best that I’m never given the opportunity to bang my head against the wall and question why I still haven’t gotten “the” answer yet. Baby steps and little progress will have to suffice.

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