Seven years ago, I began writing a novel without any idea of how to go about it. By training, I am an art historian and curator. Fiction was my little secret, something I explored when no one was watching. The idea of writing a novel would have seemed daunting, except that I had no experience or training in creative writing—no study of craft, no watching my work gutted in front of a room of my peers on a weekly basis—and with that naiveté I began excavating a single image, a house with a mother and daughter sitting before a window. This vignette emerged from staring at a picture of myself, half in shadow and half in light, where, for a second, there seem to be two different women in my own face. Other moments and characters rushed out of me. A first draft appeared within a month, and I was unscathed, almost arrogant. What was so hard about writing?
Humility entered as soon as I started editing a few months later, and faced the mediocrity of what I had written. Anxiety, obsession and self-loathing followed. I stopped sleeping, endlessly stared into space, and didn’t leave my house for weeks. I felt certain I would never be able to send my novel into the world, and yet it was all I could think about. I decided to try again. A second draft is all I would need, I told myself. But that too was substandard. With the third, I decided to change the tense, and then the point of view. I covered my pinboard with cards, plotting, and planning, only to throw it all away and begin once more. Drafts four through seven were demolished too.
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