Rewrites are Wrenching

Rewriting is funny. Kind of like time-travel is funny. Kind of like back when we all had  VCRs (I still have one) you could hit record, and tape a new thing over something you’ve already recorded. That’s the feeling I have right now: I hit record on a new scene and I’m watching it play out, and as it plays out, it’s erasing some things that already occupied that time slot in my narrative. I think the new scene is better, which is why I’m letting it run, but the old stuff wasn’t bad, you know? I’m sad to see it go. The nuts and bolts of the old scene still pretty much get sandwiched in with the new stuff around it, but now everything about the old scene means something else and must be handled differently in light of a whole thing that just upset the emotional equilibrium of the two main characters.

Just so you know, this new scene doesn’t change the direction of the whole plot or anything—it’s just the problem of the week, and I’m working through it. Also, I’m going to share this illustration with you. It’s one of the best ones I’ve done so far; a lot of people said so. Technically it still works and I’m really hoping I can still use it, but due to this re-recording of events its inclusion in the actual book is in jeopardy. This is why you should consider writing your book before you illustrate it.

© Grace Makley, 2012

On Not Participating in NaNoWriMo

If you’re here because you spend any time haunting the “Writing” tab on the wordpress.com reader you’ve seen the buzz. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is coming. In fact, it started today. You can almost hear the sounds of furious typing filling the air. The gun has already sounded, and writers the world over, holding their dreams in their hands, have embarked on the mad race to complete a novel in just one month.

In college, when people asked me if I was doing NaNo, I responded with agonizing regret. “Noooo,” I wailed, “November is the worst month. I have a million illustration projects due, and so many other homework assignments and club commitments and look at me, I’m barely holding it together as it is. There is NO WAY.” I thought I’d probably do it when I was out of school, though, because what’s not to like about a thing that provides you with vehicle and motivation to write your 50,000?

Well. The thing about NaNo is that I hear about people doing it, and it’s all very exciting, and I admire (and am perhaps a little jealous of) their drive and focus and commitment, but when the month is through, I rarely see or hear about those novels again. NaNo seems like a quick-fix gimmick. It’s a way for people to be a writer for a month, but it doesn’t provide a path for them to really make it. Anyone can write a novel in a headlong race to the finish, but how many of you can revise that novel, and keep with it through the long slog of editing when a sentence can take days and chapter three isn’t agreeing with chapter four and you accidentally removed some important information from chapter one that needs to go back in and that cool thing in chapter eight is only going to work if you start alluding to it much earlier and that’s going to mess up all those scenes in chapters four, five, and six that you’ve already perfected?

I wrote my 50,000 words. It took me from December to August, and (I suspect this is what’s actually bugging me) I won’t be made to feel inadequate by you superheroes who do it in a month. It’s not like I started from scratch in December, either. I’d already polished up chapters 1 and 2 for a portfolio project. As I wrote the rest, I had my draft from high school to guide me, and sometimes I kept whole paragraphs or even pages of that first draft. I also edited quite a bit as I went, and sometimes took days just polishing a single scene. I wasn’t as committed as I could have been, and yeah, I wish I’d done better and finished earlier, but overall I think it was a good way to work. I had my NaNo style write-ins where I just sat and did it, and the slosh of that text is sitting in my manuscript waiting for cleanup, but there are also the scenes that I polished when I wrote them, and it’s so encouraging to know they are sitting there like jewels, waiting for me to shine the rest of the piece up to their brilliant standard.

I got my 50,000 words down, any way I could, and it took nearly a year. That’s what worked for me.

Yet… isn’t NaNoWriMo all about getting your 50,000 words down, in any way you can? In this business, all that matters is making it happen, however you do it. If you can make NaNoWriMo work for you, there’s no way I can look down on you for that.

So I still love you, NaNoWriMoers. I think you’re beautiful and frightening and I applaud your tenacity and wish you the best of luck on your uphill journey. I also think you can edit and polish that novel, and I encourage you to keep climbing when November is over. I hope to see you someday at that next high, distant peak. We may follow different paths to get there, but both our paths have value, and we share the same challenge of putting one foot before the other, a single sentence at a time.

Photo ©me. Taken near Chiang Mai, Thailand

Writing, and How to Call the Storm

I keep reading it over and over, and I can’t quite believe the paragraph I wrote a few hours ago. It makes me shiver with excitement; it makes me shake with disbelief. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not here (Taniel! Why are you saying that?). Suddenly the story is blowing up here, in Chapter 4, in a way I never meant to happen. It’s scary, but it makes sense and it’s raw and it’s beautiful and it hurts, and it deals with that bit of mythology I just realized I’d neglected and  it adds more of that achey, real-life kind of pain just when I was worrying that the story didn’t have enough. In short, this was one of those magical writing moments. This was a crash of thunder, a spark of golden light, when my shaking hands were merely the vehicle for the story’s transferral to my screen. When a character had thoughts that deeply surprised me, thoughts I never meant for him to have. We all write for moments like these.

But I’m not here to brag.

Because this lightning strike? This flash of genius? I think I know how I got it, and I want to share. In fact, I think I’ve known this before, but it’s the sort of thing we forget, rather like the intro to a crazy dream. You’re gonna remember that bit right before you wake up, when you’re rallying the peasants with their pitchforks because you are the Queen of Jupiter and it’s time to take back the planet, but you’ve already forgotten how you got there, because it was so much less exciting. I mean, do you remember the last time you had to write an essay? How you hemmed and hawed and worked on your notecards and watched an entire season of How I Met Your Mother and did some research and thought about how cool your argument was, and didn’t really start writing the thing until 2 AM the night before it was due? How you’d been sitting there feeling uninspired and typing some occasional drivel for hours before that inspiration really struck? Well, here’s what I’m proposing, and I think it’s something we all know, despite how hard we try to forget: Those hours add up to something. Those hours of plugging away, of fixing a sentence here, a line there, when it feels like we’re barely working—these are what make the lighting possible. Today, for instance, I got a late start. I spent a really long time tightening a few paragraphs, I jumbled some things in that sort of worked but I knew I’d have to fix later, I grumbled at the inarticulateness of my notes and clumsily found some work-arounds for the sentences I’d been too lazy to fix before. I sat and grumbled and worked for one hour, for two hours, when it would have been easy to quit for the day, or to not even start in the first place. Yet I sat there, with my manuscript up on my computer and open on the table beside me. I put in my time. And then, right before dinner, when I should have been closing the computer and setting the table…

Lightning struck.

But only because I’d earned it.

 

 

Let’s Stop Writing Lazy

Yesterday, I posted about how I’d finished Round One of editing (wooh!). The kicker is, I went through the last forty pages in a single day. I was on a roll. And hey, they day wasn’t even over yet! Why not go right to Round Two? I picked up my manuscript, booted up the computer, and got ready to start recording my corrections from the beginning.

And I was immediately confronted with that sentence. That parenthetical, periodical travesty that had made it this far because I couldn’t figure out how to de-convolute it without ruining some, or all, of its effect. Maybe, later on in the book, I could have let it slide…. but it’s in the first paragraph. The first paragraph of an indie novel. I don’t know about you, but I make decisions on self-published books based on that first paragraph. If the author can’t convince me in that space of time that they have a competent control of the english language, I’m out.

So this is where I realized what I’m really up against in Round Two. I’m up against all the things that can’t be solved quickly, and without considerable thought. I hadn’t rewritten the sentence with my red pen; I had only written “still not sure.” Nope, not sure at all. Last night, I closed my computer and slunk off to bed. I thought of that sentence while starting my day this morning, and mulled it over. I asked myself questions like, “What am I trying to achieve with this sentence? Is it more important for it to be periodical, or lyrical? What is another way to convey this information?” Then when I got back to the computer, I finally did the work. I tried out several different things, and crafted a new sentence that has the dramatic effect I want (I hope) without sacrificing prose and readability. I’ve probably spent over an hour on that single sentence—and this is how every little thing is going to be from here on out.

Here’s another example. After she’d read most of the prototype, Lady Higg told me, “Nathaniel sighs a lot.” I said, “Huh, I guess he does.” It’s not really a problem, and it sort of makes sense with his character, and how he’s feeling in the first few pages. To be safe, though, I counted the sighs in red ink. Today, when I realized the “Nathaniel sighed” I’d marked as number one was actually his second sigh in four pages, I had to look a little closer. The line was, “Nathaniel sighed inwardly.” Well, what does that really mean? What is the feeling I’m trying to convey here? Again, I tried a few different things, and finally arrived on, “Nathaniel suppressed a desire to beat his head against the steering wheel.”  I think this provides a much more concrete image, is much more interesting, and conveys more of his frustration and melancholy than the previous, lazy line where he sighs yet again.

One more story. Back in April, as graduation and the Senior Show loomed closer, I had to write a Personal Statement to display next to the Wanderlust prototype and illustrations that made up my portion of the Senior Exhibition. The statement had to be approved by my advisor. When I went to see him, I was all like, “BAM, I work at the Writing Center, yo, how’s that for an artist statement?!” Okay, I wasn’t actually like that at all, but the point is I’d seen how bad Artist Statements can get, and I was feeling a little complacent about mine. My advisor said, “Okay. But when you say this, what do you mean? Can you find a way to actually describe that? Can you be more specific?” I may have gone away grumbling, but I knew he was right. It was the same thing I would have asked from anyone at the Writing Center, even though it’s so hard to be specific when you write about abstract things. I worked on my statement, I found a way to say what I meant, I got more specific, and I sent it back to him. He said, “Not bad,” and asked for more. We went back and forth several times after that, and the end result was an artist statement that was so much better than my complacent, and lazy, first effort.

This story’s connection to my current endeavor is pretty clear. In editing Wanderlust, now is the time to demand more from myself, and stop settling for complacency. It’s time to mull things over, to spend a day on a single sentence if necessary, and to stop writing lazy when, with a little work, I have so much more to give.

***

Yesterday and todays’ rapid-fire posts have been all about the nitty-gritty of the writing process. I’ll try to mix it up later this week, but tell me: Are you interested in hearing more about harps and Celtic mythology? Should I post more art? How about book reviews? Would you like to see more nittygritty writing posts in the future?

Editing: Round One Complete

I did it! I read through all 138 pages of my printed manuscript, 52,968 words, and absolutely destroyed them with a red pen. It looks a little like this:

Now, I can begin Round Two, where I’ll integrate all those comments into the computer file. In some places, I’ve actually written out all the changes needed in a scene, and it will be a simple matter of transcribing those notes onto the computer in their proper place. In other places, though, I’ve circled things and squiggled lines and written notes like, “Sloppy!” “Fix this!” and “Clarify!” In these places, Editing Round Two will be a much more involved process, where I’ll have to actually go in and fix all those things. I do plan to fix as much as I can this next time around, and I plan to keep a comprehensive list of anything I skip over. I anticipate that Round Three will entail forcing myself to tackle everything on that list, and then maybe—maybe—I’ll be ready to turn the manuscript over to some outside parties for further advice.

Wanna know what three things I found myself writing in the margins the most during Round One? Here you go:

More DRAMA! This is for moments where something goes down that is fairly important to the story, but, rather than showcasing the event or detail, my prose glosses over it too quickly. One doesn’t want one’s novel to be over-dramatic, of course, but you still want to draw attention to the right things, and use exciting prose to do so.

More Space! Leftenant Weatherby told me the story felt a bit rushed back in May, and I wasn’t certain I believed him; it’s a YA novel, after all. Fast-paced is good! Reading through this time, however, I think I knew what he meant. In my writing, I have a tendency to move on to the next thing without a proper lead-in or introduction, making the action feel stilted and too soon. “More space” means I need to take more physical space on the page to get there, and use description or character interaction to create a more believable illusion of the passage of time.

Tighten! This means the prose is sloppy. It’s mostly good, it mostly says the right things, it’s mostly doing what it needs to, but it needs to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb and tightened up until it sounds professional, and until it shines.

_____

Thank you, readers, for sticking with me this far. I’m really excited for the next part of the process, and I hope you’ll read along to see how it goes. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Wanderlust Facebook Page if you haven’t already. I’ve started to post a few extras over there that might not necessarily show up on the blog.

When you’re editing your work, what three things do you have to tell yourself the most?

-G