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.
I recently read an old post in a writers’ forum where someone used the term ‘verisimilitude’. As I was only mostly sure that I knew what it meant, I looked it up in my trusty dictionary. (I love checking definitions anyway, and do it quite often; I imagine that most people who are passionate about words find dictionary reading rewarding — and sometimes just plain fun.)
Verisimilitude: 1. The quality of appearing to be true or real. 2. Something that has the appearance of being true and real.
When I read this, it struck me that this should be a highly significant word in my vocabulary, because verisimilitude is a huge part of what I’ve always wanted to achieve with my own writing — even when I started that first novel when I was eleven years old. Continue reading
This continues some of the concepts I was exploring in “Learning the Art of Revision” — specifically, it addresses how those ideas are reflected in the Studio Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart. (And since I said that post was a ‘Part 2’ itself, I suppose this one should actually be ‘Part 3’ . . .) 😉
A few years ago my brother introduced me to the wonderful films of Hayao Miyazaki, and one that I fell in love with is called Whisper of the Heart. This is one of those films that falls into a category we just don’t have in American film — a realistic drama that’s animated. Though there are a couple of fantasy dream sequences, the story takes place in ‘the real world’, and the relationships between the family members and the interactions between the junior high school kids are all quite natural and believable.
It’s a story about a fourteen-year-old girl who wants to be a writer, and the first time I saw it I think I cried through most of it. It’s not a sad story — it’s just that I related so strongly to Shizuku that it made watching the film a very emotional experience. The way she spends hours writing when she’s supposed to be studying reminded me of my habit of taking two folders to every class — one for the class itself, and the other containing the story I was currently working on. (I did this from junior high all the way through college.) At every opportunity, I would write a line or two before attempting to return my attention to the subject of the course. There’s a scene in the film where Shizuku is doing exactly the same thing, and she can’t answer the teacher’s question because she wasn’t paying attention; she was working on her book instead. Continue reading
Note: This makes references to the previous post about ‘The Muse and the Editor’, and is essentially ‘Part 2’ of that discussion.
It’s sometimes said that half of the art of writing is the art of revision. When it comes to the quality and originality of what your muse brings to you, I think there may be a certain amount of ‘talent’ that you either have or don’t have. But developing a good editor is primarily a matter of hard work and acquiring the necessary skills. You can learn to revise–and to be an accomplished wordsmith, you must learn to revise.
There are plenty of myths and pieces of misinformation floating around about the craft of writing. One over-quoted phrase is “Kill your darlings”, which is attributed to William Faulkner–though he may have borrowed it from another source–and which has been echoed emphatically by Steven King. It’s one of those things some writers bandy about as if they feel that saying it shows how mature and sophisticated they are. But in reality it has limited application and is too often misinterpreted. What I dislike most about it is that it implies that writers can’t learn to appraise their own work (although that may not have been the original intent at all). If that were true, they could never learn to edit their own work, which, of course, is nonsense. Continue reading
This summer I came across a couple of writer’s blogs addressing the topic of writing slowly. Both emphasized that writers who can’t turn out a high volume of words in a short time shouldn’t feel inferior to those who can. In particular, they pointed out that some of the great masters have been slow writers — one often mentioned is James Joyce, who is said to have taken eight years to write Ulysses.
Assuming, of course, that the writer in question is actually sitting down and getting something done, the most significant factor in determining writing speed seems to be whether the author is polishing each page as they go — we’ll call this the ‘slow method’ — or focusing on getting a rough draft down, and then coming back and revising — the ‘fast method’. Although I’m going to explain here why the ‘fast method’ works better for me than the ‘slow method’ — and also why I think it helps to prevent writer’s block — I strongly agree that the creative process is very personal, and each writer must find their own path in that process. The end result is what matters, not how long it takes to get there.
Looking at my own progression as a writer, I find it noteworthy that my modus operandi has changed. As a kid I wrote mostly by hand, and only occasionally used a typewriter. The entire first draft of my first novel was written by hand (and in pencil!), a thought that makes me shudder now. I also have short stories written in college that only exist in one hand-written draft. Yet some of those stories have passages in them that I wouldn’t change even now. Continue reading