Tag Archives: writing novels

A Life in Revision

I have written a couple of novels. Both are 50,000+ words thanks to the rules of National Novel Writing Month and both are unpublished. One is horrible and will never see the light of day; the other one I like to think of as promising. In writing both of them I found that I came to a point where I had no idea what was happening. I had created the whole scenario and knew how I wanted it to end, but to get from “here” to “there” required something more: some  fancy literary footwork, or acrobatic maneuvering. There has to be tension in reading or it isn’t worth it, but writing? The tension can be a killer. I got through it both times, just more convincingly in the second novel.

I am now back to my “promising” novel and find that revision has the same issue as the initial writing. This first draft has a beginning, middle and an end, some pretty good characters, an intriguing premise, and several action scenes that make it a story I would hate to see just end up in a box but I am at that knot in the string that has to be dealt with to get from promising to good. I am at the hammer and tongs phase where it’s time to revise the draft into a real manuscript, a story worth reading. I have to pare away the stuff that sort of spilled out with everything else, but doesn’t really add to the story. I have to check my timelines; can my heroine really do all that in a day? and why doesn’t she do anything the next day? I need to flesh out other characters or remove them all together. And the big question: who dies in the end? I can still see it going a couple of different ways.

It is time to move from the role of anxious protective writer to patient thoughtful editor. I need to distance myself a titch from what I have already done and look at it with some objectivity. When I am at risk of slipping into self-loathing over the parts that aren’t ready for primetime, I have to pull it back and congratulate myself on the good stuff and keep building on that. Writing a novel can be a little like living a life. It gets messy. Sometimes it flows and other times you have to “put your back into it,” as Dad used to say when he could see the job required more effort than what we kids were applying. Sometimes in life you pick up stuff and it turns out to be not helpful, like an activity that was entertaining or instructive in the process but doesn’t really add to the quality of life and can now be left behind. Sometimes you have to hang onto stuff and make it work even if it is unwieldy and frustrating, because it is worth it. Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference, but the older I get and the less anxious and protective I am the clearer that seems.

I have less say about how my life develops than I do about the direction my novel takes; life has a lot of extenuating circumstances. I can edit where I am at, though. Less puzzles and TV, more reading and conversation; less worry and more giggles—that sort of thing. The rest has to be left to faith and I can work on that bit, too.