I’ve gone back to a project I haven’t looked at in 18 months, a project that hasn’t been shopped at all so should still have a brand-new shiny feel. Instead, this project that’s given me fits over the years continues to make me nervous. I think the nerves are a result of the MANY hours I’ve put into this book without an end in sight. I read it through in one sitting yesterday and while I admired much about the manuscript, I’m still not confident the story structure is correct.
You know what that means . . .
My self-imposed deadline for finishing this draft is fast-approaching and I’m torn between wishing I had another couple days of work time and being SO GLAD the end is near. I’m at that point in which I’d just as soon throw the manuscript in the lake.
Soggy or not, here I come.
Sometimes taking the most simple action can quell my anxiety. Yesterday as I worked on this revision and felt overwhelmed by the many, many details of my madcap story that must be explained by the end of the manuscript, I started a list.
LOOSE ENDS / EXPLANATIONS NEEDED
Whoa. Behold this literary rocket scientist at work!
I’m trying hard to stop kicking myself for not creating the list at the outset of this round of revisions and, instead, be grateful for my peace of mind in the here and now.
Today, as I work on revisions and battle feelings of overwhelm and oh-my-goddess-will-I-ever-be-finished-with-this-effing-story, I’m trying to keep in mind that perfection is the enemy of done. My revisions will never, ever be perfect. This manuscript will never, ever be perfect no matter how many times I revise. Yes, the bloom on this Christmas Cactus is pretty much perfect, but that kind of creation is out of my reach.
What is within my creative control is forging ahead. Ignoring the voices in my head telling me that my efforts are pointless because they’ll never be exactly right.
At this point, the healthiest attitude is to let go of exactly right and aim for exactly done.
Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
~ Khalil Gibran
Yesterday I (finally) came to the realization that a couple two or three much-loved scenes in my manuscript serve no real purpose. Try as I might, I couldn’t justify them. And after attempting to salvage little bits here and there, I (finally) came to another realization: pruning shears weren’t the tool for the job.
The first cut is the deepest, baby, I know.
Today I kept writing despite
the nasty voice
the feelings of futility
the sweet seduction of giving up
the stack of unread library books
Today, I’m thankful I kept writing.
All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is not to say that the words I put down today are necessarily good words, but for right now, they are close enough to good. I’m moving around some scenes and adding others to this draft, and many of the words I wrote today are more placeholder than set-in- stone. But, as a result of the day’s underwater swimming, I’m that much closer to The End.
And now, I breathe deeply.
Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry.
With both you are working with reality,
a material just as hard as wood.
~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Today I used my Scrivener corkboard and calendar pages to finish plotting out this revision along with the story’s revised time line. I made good progress, but am still not sure how the newly envisioned climatic scene will unfold. So I made a list of the fifteen or so ingredients that will be in play during that scene, and am now letting my subconscious do the cooking.
All week I’ve struggled to revise the same couple chapters, making very little progress. The nasty voice in my head has had a good old time, telling me I’m not a good writer, that my novel is crap, that there’s no salvaging the mess I’ve made, that I’m delusional to think I can pull off the story I want to tell, etc.
I started to believe that.
Because of all my revising, moving back-and-forth within the first 100+ pages, I was confused and disoriented regarding plot lines and character motivations. I didn’t know which way was up. So. This afternoon, I resorted to The Running Start Technique. I went back to page 1 and read through to my sticking point on page 104, taking notes along the way to remind myself exactly certain key events happened.
I hadn’t spun my wheels all this week because I’m a bad writer; rather, somewhere inside me I understood that I was headed in the wrong direction. The reason I didn’t make forward progress wasn’t because I suck, but because I wasn’t supposed to go that way. Stubborn tenacity isn’t always a good thing, yo. Whew. I feel so much better about my work-in-progress and me right now.
The sad/funny/pathetic/embarrassing thing is, I’ve already experienced that exact same stalled feeling followed by the Hey, Trace! You’re taking the wrong road! realization. Multiple times. I can only hope that the next time it happens (and it will), the nasty voice is banished much more quickly.
One of the best things about being a writer is that we can always learn and become better storytellers. Today, I happened upon two insights regarding character motivation (wants vs needs, and choices) that were worded in such a way that I immediately spotted what was wrong with my work-in-progress. What I read wasn’t new to me, but information doesn’t always sink in the first (or second or fifth) time I come across it. Today, things clicked. And that makes this writer very, very happy.
Art can’t be taught;
passion can’t be taught;
discipline can’t be taught;
but craft can be taught.
And writing is both an art and a craft.
~ Elizabeth George
Tonight Zippy, Wildebeest, Zebu, and I are going to watch the Nuggets play the 76ers. I’m excited because one of my favorite former Michigan State players, Gary Harris, plays for the Nuggets. Also, I love basketball.
However, that excitement doesn’t mean I won’t be packing a pen and notebook. Yes, I’m a basketball fan. But I’m also a writer who likes to be prepared, and as Tom Waits says: Any place is good for eavesdropping, if you know how to eavesdrop.
Even a basketball arena.
Where did the day go? Last thing I knew, I was sitting down to figure out some stuff about the fictional community I’m creating. I did learn lots about pea viners and farming trends, and my revision notes are more fleshed out. I definitely made progress.
Still. Where did the day go?
There’s no limit to how complicated things can get,
on account of one thing always leading to another.
~ E. B. White
I don’t know the context for this quotation, but it speaks to me today as I struggle to revise my once tightly-plotted novel. The changes I’m making are needed and will strengthen the manuscript. I know this. But that knowledge doesn’t make the process any easier or less painful.
Every single tug on a story thread results in a temporary snarl that must be untangled in order for the revisions to flow. Today it feels as if I’m falling behind on the untangling process.
I’m hoping E.B. White was wrong and that there is actually a limit on how complicated things can get.
It was a productive day in the revision cave
and I’m feeling a bit like this:
Theda Bara in “Cleopatra,” 1917
Focused and just a wee bit crazed.
(Hey, it’s a better look than pasty-faced Tom Wolfe in his white suit.)
. . . if your cats won’t even look you in the eye
Today’s revision work felt a bit like mucking around in the pipes. It was worth the somewhat grimy effort, though, because all plot and subplot lines are now in synch and flowing quite nicely. Hallelujah!
Now if only I could pee standing up.
My writing often contains souvenirs of the day
– a song I heard, a bird I saw –
which I then put into the novel.
~ Amy Tan
Thinking back on my writing day, I didn’t include a snippet of song or any bird images. Instead, I referenced a heartbreaking news item about a ten-year-old girl with serious health issues who has been caught up in this administration’s xenophobia-on-steroids policies. Tomorrow, I’ll try hard for a bird.
“If a bunch of words are cut from a novel and no one is around to read them,
did they ever exist?”
Today I’m feeling a bit like this as I revise:
There are visibility issues, doubts and uncertainties, and a nagging worry that the whole endeavor is about to go into a skid. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying the ride and can’t wait to see the end result when the dust settles.
Revision is all about keeping in mind the big picture and the many, many details that go into creating that big picture. Because a novel is kinda like a forest, which is nothing without its trees.
Hike in Staunton State Park, Oct 13, 2017
I’m sifting through the feedback I received from my critique group. Most everything offered either resonated with me right away (YES! That change is a must!) or fell flat on delivery (NOPE! That misses the point and/or is unnecesssary and/or etc). Those are the easy critique points. However, I’ve also got some tough calls to make, and those are now simmering in my middle mind. Should I expand the mystery element of the story? Does X, Y, Z happen? I’m hoping my middle mind has answers for me in the very near future.
In the meanwhile, I’m reveling in some of the truly messed-up things that happen in this book. Lest you think I’m alone in this kind of thinking:
Personally, I see little distinction between an artistic mentality and criminality.
You couldn’t possibly create a compelling story without some wickedness
or some fascination with the disgusting.
Being good is a hindrance to a writer.
~ Russell Smith
Can I get an amen?
Pen & sticky notes ✔
Manuscript pages ✔
Yoga mat for kneeling ✔
Space to talk aloud to myself ✔
THE END of this first draft within striking distance ✔