“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”
Discovering what you believe takes time — you can’t really rush it. It took five years for Flaubert to write Madame Bovary — and it is still viewed as a masterpiece of style and story. The letters he wrote during this period of intense creativity are filled with descriptions about the tremendous time and work required. A slow and meticulous writer, Flaubert was known to labor over one page of prose for a week in order to arrive at the precise effect he wanted.
As Francis Steegmuller, a translator, notes: “Still in existence are numbers of his preliminary drafts and rewritings: many a passage was slowly and painfully composed, slowly and painfully recast in a dozen or more different versions, only finally to be discarded entirely.”
The same translator also observed that nothing in Madame Bovary is accidental or arbitrary. “Everything flows from the central conception, as by a natural law. The plot, the psychology of the protagonists, the tragic end, the triumph of that epitome of bourgeois banality, Monsieur Homais, are all of a piece. This extraordinary coherence is reflected in the masterly and subtle construction, full of foreshadowings and echoes, points and counterpoints, intricate cross-references.”
Well, we may not have Flaubert’s flair, but we can certainly adopt his attitude and aspire to devote the same intense care and attention to what we’re writing. It’s time for me to tackle the fifth revision of the opening of my YA novel. It’s getting stronger, but it’s not there yet. Inspired by the great Gustave, I’m going to keep at it until it’s just right. How about you? Are you working on something today that you can push to the next level with intense effort? Let’s write on!