In J.T. Bushnell's Poets & Writers article "The Thousand Pages," he reflects on something I said years ago: that I threw away a thousand pages of my first book, Down in the River, before I was done. Mostly he explores the writing process of his wonderful first novel, The Step Back.
Check out an excerpt from his Poets & Writers article below. This article is available in print only, but please order the May/June 2021 copy at Poets & Writers. See link below. Very grateful for this shoutout.
“About a decade ago I had the notion that I'd like to tackle the novel again. I had written a couple of bad ones just after college and then applied to MFA programs with the goal of figuring out how to write a good one. Once there, however, I discovered the power of short fiction--both as a literary form and a workshop tool--and so for several years I cut my teeth on it, assuming I would one day return to the novel better prepared to meet its demands. When that day came, though, I found that I'd grown comfortable in the story's cozy dimensions and that the novel had become a terror of open space. Stepping into one was like stepping into the vast concavity of a sports arena, or staring up at the dizzying heights of a skyscraper. The solid ground seemed to sway beneath me, and I clutched at whatever was nearby. In this fashion I made three or four novel attempts that crumbled after about ninety pages, and they produced such a sense of loathing in me that no amount of willpower could induce me to continue or revive them. It was one of the hardest periods I had been through as a writer, and I wondered if I was capable of writing a novel at all, let alone a good one.
“Around this time a friend, Ryan Blacketter, sent me the manuscript of what would become his own first novel, Down in the River (Slant, 2014). I knew he had written only short stories until then, so I was impressed at how well built his novel was--how sturdy its foundation, how varied and efficient its architecture, how high its pinnacle. When I told him how much I admired it, he thanked me, then said, ‘I've thrown away a thousand pages, but none of them were wasted.’
“At first I thought he meant the number as hyperbole. Kill your darlings and all that. But he meant it literally, and when I understood this, my reaction surprised me. Rather than feeling intimidated by such a gargantuan number, I felt heartened. All I had to do was write a thousand pages? I might not know how to build a novel, I thought, but I knew how to put my butt in a chair and words on a page. . .”
Thanks so much J.T., and congratulations on your book.