My brilliant colleague and friend Anne Ursu described theme this way in a lecture she gave at Hamline University in July of 2018:
Without looking at what you wrote on Day 1, answer the same questions.
What do you know about your novel?
What do you need to discover about your novel?
Take your time with this. When you are finished, take a look at what you wrote twenty-nine days ago when all of this began.
I hope you know more now. Or that the things you thought you knew have been challenged and deepened.
You are bound to still have much more to discover. We keep discovering until the very end. We discover even after the novel becomes a published book.
My hope for you is that this month has been challenging and invigorating and rewarding. I hope that you’ve fallen in love with your stories.
Remember that the goal of this class was never to finish a novel, but to discover one.
And it was also to approach your work with an open heart and a curious mind, knowing that some days the writing will come easily and other days it won’t, and that each one of these days, the good and the bad, are part of the process.
I hope you’ve made time for yourself, developed or maintained rituals around writing, and learned more about how you work best. And, most of all, I hope that you continue your novels and carry your writing practice forward into the next month, and the months after that.
For now or for tomorrow, here is one last assignment from me:
Take a look at your beginning.
Often we worry so much about the language of our first sentences or about beginning with a surprise or a hook.
But what really matters is to show us, in ways either obvious or subtle, what the heart of your novel is. What mood does it evoke? What is your character engaged in? If that “shaft of light” Wharton talks about does indeed cast all the way from your illuminating incident to your first page, will we understand what we see and why it’s there?
Good luck with the rest of your stories, my friends! I will be cheering you on.