The Purgatory of Novel Writing
Up until about six years ago, I don’t think I’d ever heard the word ‘purgatory‘. I simply thought you died, your soul rose to heaven and you lived there forever. The end. Hallelujah and thanks be to God.
When I started researching the teachings of the Catholic Church, however, I discovered another stage in the afterlife experience. A refining process. A…purgatory.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Purification, it says, is necessary since nothing unclean can enter the presence of God in heaven. Including our sin-stained souls. So even though our sins may be forgiven, we still have sins. We still have imperfections. Even after we die.
“What?” I asked, appalled. “You mean that I can spend an entire lifetime trying to be good and holy, and then there’s MORE work AFTER I die?”
The idea was overwhelming—exhausting, even—and I wasn’t sure if I had the courage or stamina for such an endeavor.
And then I started my writing career.
For years I worked as a journalist before branching out to begin my own projects. First on the list was this dystopian trilogy that had been burning in my heart.
I started writing it in a hotel lobby in San Francisco during a family vacation when my oldest daughter was 13 months old. Now, as she approaches her fourth birthday, I have witnessed my Capacity series grow from a stand-alone novel into a trilogy.
In doing so, I have slaved to improve my writing. I have studied the techniques of good writers, and hungrily consumed articles and books about writing. I have devoted hard-to-come-by spare time to bettering myself in this industry.
Years. I’ve spent years working hard to be skillful, and now I’ve reached revisions.
From a distance, revisions sound pleasant. Fun, even. Like frolicking through a bug-free meadow, scooping wild daisies in each hand, as my manuscript grows stronger with each step. The sun warms my skin from a cloudless, cerulean sky, and my novel—once a victim of incongruity and grammatical errors—is now fully whole. Complete.
In my hands, it radiates with newfound perfection.
Which is not only neat, it is necessary.
After all, no imperfect manuscript can enter the publishing world.
The problem is that revisions themselves are not fun. There are no meadows, no daisies, and certainly no sun-filled cerulean skies.
The result of revisions is heavenly, no doubt.
But revisions themselves are tedious and tough. They require vulnerability and thick skin. They demand you to scour your work for each imperfection—every tiny mistake—and eliminate it.
Then you must invite others to help you do that.
It’s not easy to give other people a magnifying glass and ask them to find all your blemishes. It’s uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes downright humiliating. Some writers may not think they have the courage or stamina for such a purgatorial endeavor.
But, if anyone wants to enter the pearly gates of publishing, it is absolutely necessary.