{guest post} when to let go

This is a guest post by Evan Couzens, one of my clients. His first novel, Battlesongs of Hope, is available on Amazon.

I started writing my debut novel, Battlesongs of Hope, when I was 22. I published it the day after I turned 27, after I had come to a painful and difficult realization: BSOH was never going to be the novel I wanted it to be.

When I sat down to draft BSOH, I wanted to produce the absolute best book I could. For the first time in my life, I told myself, I was really going to try at something. School had always been easy and my writing classes were easy. I won undergraduate awards without trying. I was the best writer in my class.

The first time I tried to write a book, I thought it would be more of the same. The first novel I wrote, before I had even imagined BSOH, took me four months of drafting and two months of editing. I hit the agency circuit full of hope. Sixty some rejections later, I found out just how high the standard for good writing is.

So for BSOH, I really tried.

And after five years, I had to face the truth. Battlesongs of Hope, as a novel, doesn’t match up. The story is good. The main character is awesome. Even the execution, when compared to what I was capable of when I started, is outstanding.

But while I wrote, I learned. While I wrote, I grew as a writer. By the time I was done, what I was capable of doing as a writer more than what the novel itself could accommodate. To write the best book I was capable of writing, I would have to start all over. And I’d already rewritten BSOH start to finish once.

This quest for perfection in writing is a Sisyphean task. With every new breakthrough in understanding, with every draft that sings, with every polished edit, we push our ceiling higher. And then every character, every scene, every narrative flourish that came before becomes that much less than perfect.

It was easy to denigrate my earlier work, from my new, lofty, enlightened perch. Easy to want to bring it up to par, polish it up, make it work right this time. But every time I did, I learned a little more, grew a little more, and saw a few more flaws.

That’s when it’s time to let it go. A book can only grow with you so much. No matter how good the plot or how compelling the characters, the writer in you will outgrow the book faster than the author in you would care to admit.

And when you do find yourself becoming constrained by the crushing, glaring flaws in your book, give yourself permission to move on. Pitch or publish your book, and let it fly on its merits. No author has only one good idea. Find your next book and start anew. It’s a liberating, enriching experience to explore a new world again.

You may still swear that this next book will be the best. That by the time you’re done, your new story will capture just how good you can be as a writer.

And when it can’t, set it free. Because the next book…

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