Here’s one of the upsides of seeing one’s style change with maturity and experience: because some tough things in life got in the way and this year’s Write-a-thon didn’t work out as I’d planned, I thought that coming back to my current WIP (the one I’d intended to try to complete in the past six weeks) might be difficult. But I was pleasantly surprised that when I looked at it immediately after working on the earlier manuscript, it was clear that all that experience is showing; it was actually uplifting to see how much of the first draft material is quite strong already.
I could probably say I was raised to be a ‘lit snob’. As a small child I’d look at the books my parents were reading — by authors like Virginia Woolf and Loren Eiseley — and think that that’s what you aim for: that’s how real, classy adults write. Though I was used to almost everything I wrote receiving high praise from teachers and other adults, it was frustrating when I could see for myself that my own writing just wasn’t that sophisticated — and I really wanted to be sophisticated.
So it gives me a warm, solid feeling to have reached a level in my craft where the words that come to me naturally sound ‘grown-up’ — even by my admittedly high standards. There may always be times when getting a particular passage to capture exactly what I’m trying to convey is a challenge — that’s part of the fun of it, after all — but there’s no doubt in my mind that I have all the tools now. I know how to do what I’m trying to do, and as long as I put the time in, I can get it done. Continue reading
When asked in an interview how you know when your manuscript is submission-ready, agent Eddie Schneider said, “If you’ve edited to the point where you feel like you’re just pushing words around and your eyes are going to melt out of your skull and pool between the lines, you’re getting close.”
That would be a pretty good description of the state I’m in with regards to most of the novel I’m polishing up (with the possible exception of the new material added to the last draft). There are sections of In the Shadow of the She-Wolf that I’ve poured over so many times I have them memorized. Although of course Mr. Schneider is right about the importance of thoroughly polishing a manuscript, I would never recommend that anyone put as many hours of their life into one book as I have with this one.
This book is one of the reasons I feel strongly about the importance of writing a novel fairly rapidly — at least, getting down the entire first draft within a few months, if possible. In fact, I might say the best scenario would be to write a complete draft in a month or so, and then to not look at it for six months, or even a year. That way you have both the cohesiveness in the creative process and the distance to look at it with true objectivity when you’re ready to revise. Continue reading
Though it’s especially disappointing when I was so excited about my chosen project for the Write-a-thon this year, I’ve realized it’s just not a good time to work on something so demanding. To make sure I accomplish something meaningful during the remainder of the six weeks, I’ve decided only to focus on doing the final edits of the novel I’m about to start querying, In the Shadow of the She-Wolf. (More specifically, the first volume of that novel, since I split the book into three parts last year.) My father (retired English prof), is proofreading the manuscript, and I’m very close to the end now.
This is the book that acquired the infamous title of ‘NFH’ (Novel from Hell), because it’s been through so many drafts–both drastic rewrites and the kind that mostly involve nitpicking and polishing the language–over so many years. So I find it quite curious that I’m actually finding typographical errors in the manuscript, if only very occasionally. And I would describe myself as a pretty good proofreader. (When Virginia Kidd reviewed a much earlier incarnation of this novel many years ago, one of the things she complimented me on was how clean the manuscript was, and I did the final polish on that version entirely on my own.)
Since there was new material added to the first volume, it doesn’t surprise me when my father or I find errors in those sections, but the rest of it has been combed through multiple times by three beta readers, and countless times by myself. Clearly this is exactly why some people recommend reading backwards when proofreading; the human brain will often ‘auto-correct’, filling in what it knows should be in a sentence or phrase when something is missing or incorrect.
I think we’d all like to believe that when we set a goal that’s truly important to us, we’ll be able to stick with it no matter what life throws at us. But when the difficulties are serious, there comes a point when you have to recognize that you’re not superhuman and something has to give.
Since it certainly doesn’t help to have something else to feel bad about at a difficult time, I’d hate to give up on the Write-a-thon entirely. To accomplish at least a little bit this week, I’ve tried to take advantage of the fact that the ‘editor’ can function under duress much better than the ‘muse’. I took the only section of the original half-written manuscript of this novel that had been saved in a document (the rest was done on a typewriter), transferred it into my new working draft, and started doing a few revisions. For what it’s worth, that resulted in a substantial increase in the word count–although it also highlighted the extent of the editing I’ll need to do to in those chapters to make them fit with the new material.
This week I finished the prologue and got a start on the first chapter. Unless I were able to work on this project full time, it looks like there’s no getting around the fact that it’s going to take longer than I’d hoped; I know I can make this novel into just what I’ve envisioned from the beginning, but it’s simply going to take a lot of work. On the plus side, I’m in the honeymoon phase with the prologue right now, as it feels very strong. After I got it all down, I spent some time tweaking and polishing it. The more I worked on it, the more it made me cry–and since it relates a devastating, tragic incident, it would seem that I’ve done something right.
What’s making the first chapter go slowly is that I’m pulling in material from the original draft that was written a gazillion years ago, as I mentioned last week. Though I rarely have the kind of self-doubts some writers seem to be plagued with, sometimes I have whimsical little worries that amuse as much as worry me, and after I got everything in place on the opening page, I had a bit of a laugh when I reread it.
It popped into my head that someone might say it was ‘boring’ to open the first chapter of a novel with a description of a sunset and the thoughts of a young man who’s experiencing anxiety about his new wife, while his new wife is pulling spring vegetables in a garden . . . Then it struck me as funny, because boy, does that sound ‘literary’. (I guess I’m not kidding when I say I write literary fiction that also happens to be speculative fiction!) Continue reading
The bad news is that I haven’t done any actual writing on my chosen project, and here it is the end of the first week of the Write-a-thon . . . The good news (although that may be subject to debate) is that after spending some time reading the original half-finished draft of this novel, I think I’ll be using quite a bit more of it than I had thought I would. And it’s certainly interesting to be reminded of all the work I put into it, much of which I don’t remember all that well.
The reason this might not be such good news is that it may make the process much more difficult. Trying to decide what to keep and what not to keep–and, especially, integrating the old material in with the new material–can make putting together a solid draft far more complicated. And after my experience with what my sister and I call the ‘Novel from Hell’, (a.k.a. the ‘NFH’), which was written and rewritten repeatedly over a shocking number of years, that’s not a situation I want to put myself in again. It’s far easier to work with something that’s been written all at one time, because even if the material is rough and needs a lot of editing it’s going to be much more cohesive that way. (This is one of the reasons I advocate using ‘the fast method’, as discussed in my post about “The Muse and the Editor.”)
But I can see that scratching my head about this–not to mention endlessly fiddling around with the enormous file full of outlines and notes for this project–isn’t going to get the book written. The only thing to do is to dive in and start writing it, ignoring the clutter and confusion. The complexities will just have to be dealt with as they come along. (‘Damn the torpedoes’ and all that . . . ) Continue reading
I’m gearing up for the Clarion West Write-a-thon again, but I’m afraid it’s kind of snuck up on me–a lot like Christmas always does! It seemed like I had plenty of time–and I was planning to get the word out early–and it’s starting just next week.
The project I’ve chosen is pretty ambitious, but also something I’m so excited about that in many ways it’s better than Christmas! I’m going to try to complete a draft of a novel I started many years ago and, as I mention on my Write-a-thon page, it’s set in what may very well be my favorite world. Spending a lot of time there is something I’ve been looking forward to for ages. But precisely because I know this world and these people so well, one of the challenges will be that there’s even more pressure when it comes to ‘getting it right’ and finding the words that will do them justice.