…and some further thoughts on revision…

The stupidest thing I ever did during this whole crafting-a-novel process is promise to send it to several readers for their thoughts and opinions once the second draft is completed. These people are now asking for drafts of the novel, wondering aloud when they might receive them, and I risk becoming a characature of a writer, the kind of writer who is always working on something that can never be shared.

I have been struggling with the revisions. Seriously struggling, enough to wonder if perhaps this was just the crappy first novel I had to “get out of the way” so I could write a real novel. I mean, after all, I did dump just about every issue I personally have into this novel. It’s more than that, though…by following the advice not only to write what you know I also tried to write a book I would want to read but instead of locating my own voice, I feel this manuscript is chapter after chapter of approximations – this chapter sounds a little bit like Pat Conroy, this other chapter models the way Jeffrey Lent crafts language. There is no consistent voice in the book and beyond that, the thought that keeps coming back to me, admittedly a rather ridiculous thought since this is a novel, is that this book lacks honesty. If it is going to be in any way successful, and by successful I mean something I can at least walk away from with some pride, then it needs a humbler, more honest approach, and I need to take it a little less seriously.

Another thing this little book, this titleless little book of mine, suffers from is the fact I tried to stuff WAY too much into it. It overflows, it runs on, with the most meaningless information imaginable. Don’t get me wrong, some of that information was very fun to write, but it no longer belongs.

I really thought about walking away. I could move on one of the dozen other writing projects floating around in my head, clammering for attention, and just chalk this manuscript up to a great first novel-writing experience. But that just doesn’t feel write…this book still feels like unfinished business, and it’s not just because I feel this dogged need to complete it, which i do – it’s because I still feel pulled in by the characters and by parts of the story. Anna and Ben and Mira and Brian are going to stay with me until I can finally, once and for all, put them away and say I did my best by them.

Yesterday I spent two hours reworking the first to paragraphs of the novel. I wrote and erased and wrote and rewrote and searched the first draft for the moment where the story really begins, which is NOT the first chapter I originally wrote, and at the end of the two hours I think I at least settled on the beginning. Now it’s just a matter of all the rest of it – of approaching the book as honestly and openly as I can, without aspiring to write like anyone else but me, and without trying to create a book like others I’ve read and instead make sure this is a book only I could write.

 

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7 Responses to …and some further thoughts on revision…

  1. shoreacres says:

    Thanks for teaching me one lesson already this morning – I MUST go through my entries and redo the tags and categories. Most of my stuff is unsearchable because I didn’t understand how to use them properly in the beginning.

    I get nervous about referring anyone to one of my own blogs – feels like shilling – but I’ve been where you are, and think you might get a kick out of reading my thoughts on the situation.

    I also advise plenty of fresh air 😉

    http://shoreacres.wordpress.com/2008/05/06/purity-of-prose-is-to-write-one-thing/

  2. I love this: “of approaching the book as honestly and openly as I can, without aspiring to write like anyone else but me, and without trying to create a book like others I’ve read and instead make sure this is a book only I could write.”

    I’m trying to do that too, and it’s hard. Also it turns out that my readers will only be seeing the third draft, not the second. What an excruciating process.

    Best of luck, Courtney.

  3. laura says:

    “Too much stuff” – that was my problem with my first attempt at a novel! Not at all saying your “too much” is unfixable, but mine certainly was. Maybe you even remember the craziness, I was trying to write like ten different stories into one novel, lol!

    I hope you don’t scrap it! I remember the parts of it I read still, your characters were charming, and there was a great little mystery going on! Maybe you could even call it a super-heavy rewrite for your second draft. I’m still not sure if what I’m writing is a new first draft, or a super-heavy rewrite for a second draft. I don’t know if it even matters.

    The best part though is that you’ve come out of that first draft with all this new insight as a writer, and the ability to see just how your novel should and shouldn’t be. Hopefully it all gets much easier from this point!

    It’s such a novelist thing to say, isn’t it? That you’ve got these characters living in your head and you can’t put them to rest until they’re out on paper in a solid tangible way, lol! I feel this all the time!

    Back to your revisions now! 🙂

  4. Pete says:

    Sterkte (strength) with your revisions. It sounds like a whittling-down process. The truth is there, it just needs to revised. I hope you’re still having some fun with this. Whenever I think of novel revisions I remember Kiran Desai who started off with 1500 pages and whittled that down to less than 500 (I think). Good luck.

  5. Cam says:

    Good luck Courtney. Of course a novel has to be “honest” but more importantly you need to be honest with yourself about why you are unhappy with it, which should include looking at what your hopes and fears are about sharing it with readers you trust. You’ve come a long way with your novel — don’t let the frustrations of revison thwart your endeavor. And if it isn’t until a ‘third’ rewrite that you’re willing to share it, what difference does that make? I’m not sure how one should count rewrites. After all, aren’t there some sentences that you’ve revised countless times? Don’t let the process itself bog you down. Keep going!

  6. A Free Man says:

    Good luck with the revisions. One of my least favorite parts about writing. THE least favorite part about writing!

  7. Emily Barton says:

    Uh-oh. I made that mistake, too, of inviting people to read my “first draft” (which is really my second draft, because absolutely nobody should be exposed to the first draft of anything I write — and not just because it’s written in my illegible handwriting). They will be waiting for it early next year, while I am sure I will be busy thinking, “No, no one should see this ‘second draft.’ It can’t go out until I’ve got the ‘third draft’ done.

    You know what? It DOESN’T matter. It’s your book. You can take as long as you want to write it, and it can change many, many times in major or minor ways. Just keep writing, and don’t give up, and it will tell you when, “Yes, this is you, Courtney,” and “No, that’s you trying to be Jeffrey Lent, and I don’t want to be Jeffrey Lent. I want to be you.” I am convinced of it.

    (Gee, can you tell I am constantly having to give myself pep talks? So nice to be able to share them with someone else!)

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