#156: A Novel is a Tree

Feedback lands and work begins once more. I’m reminded again of how much each draft is built on those before it. Everything in the book is something that I put there at one point because it felt appropriate at the time. With each pass the material ossifies, becomes sturdier, closer to its final form.

A novel is a tree. It begins as a seed among many. With luck the seed lands in a spot that gets the right amount of sun and rain and it sprouts, grows into a sapling. The rough draft.

The manuscript grows in all directions at once. It spreads its roots down into the writer’s psyche, draws from the soil of decomposed experience. It spreads its branches out and up, seeking sky in the broader culture, in the grove of novels already written and the forest of things already said.

One can imagine an author in this analogy as a benevolent gardener, pruning branches to promote the novel’s growth. But far better, I think, to imagine oneself as the tree. A tree already knows how to prune its branches. It knows to let leaves that have been grown over by others wither and fall away. It is constantly triaging, constantly in communication with itself and ecosystem. It is in constant refinement of its theory of life.

I was wrong, though not entirely – the finished manuscript isn’t the final form. Publication just represents, to us, the moment of maximum expression. Or the moment of maturity. When the tree first releases its own seeds to the wind and birds.

And that moment – I can feel it approaching.