Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Did I Do That?

My workflow on my historical romance novel has been ridiculously complicated. Tons of revision passes over several years. Scenes cut and rewritten and moved and combined. Version upon version taking up space on my hard drive. It’s a lot to keep track of.

Part of the reason for all this chaos is ignorance (at worse) and inexperience (at best). The other part is that novels are large and complex undertakings to begin with. And regardless of which end of the word count spectrum you are on (50k to 150k), that’s a lot of words, sentences, scenes, characters, you name it, to keep a handle on.

For years, I had only three-quarters of a story. I had an ending in mind, but I didn’t write it out until a couple of years ago, when I started taking my writing seriously. With a complete draft, I could track the improvements in my writing. Scenes became more focused, narrative threads started to come together, and I finally knew what my story was about as I got closer and closer to The End.

Then I flipped back to the beginning and wanted to tear my hair out.

Clumsy prose…
Confusing opening scene…
Infodumps all over the place...


Yep, I did it all. And so I took all the things I learned in completing my story and applied it to the beginning. Writing and rewriting my opener, refining sentences, tightening scenes. Then I started sharing the story with my critique partners.

After they reached about the midway point, something funny happened. My CPs starting flagging things like rampant adverbs, dialogue tags, and other things I Knew Better than to do. But I hadn’t really looked at the second half of the book with my editor cap on for some time – I remembered it being fine, better than the first half. And I had read through it since then, but sometimes it’s hard to pick out what’s wrong with a passage, especially when it not only reads ok, but also how you expected it to.

Writing skills aren’t static – they are constantly growing and evolving just as you are as a person. So in working on my beginning the second time around, my writing ability continued to improve, resulting in a mismatch between the first and second half of the novel. I realized I needed to devote the same revision energy that I applied to my beginning to the rest of the book in order to take it to the next level.

It can be discouraging to realize something I’ve written isn’t as awesome as I remembered it to be. However, my writing skills are improving – I’m better able to recognize what works and what doesn’t. I’m becoming a better writer every day.

I’ll take it, even if it means constant vigilance on my part to ensure all aspects of my work are indicative of my abilities as a writer today as opposed to a year ago, six months ago, even as of yesterday.

Nothing else will do.

6 comments:

Lori M. Lee said...

Great post! And so right. It's kind of cool (and intensely frustrating and embarrassing lol) to go back and see such obvious improvement between the beginning of a draft and the ending. But I guess that's part of what I love about writing and growing :D

Elizabeth Twist said...

Thanks for sharing your process. It's good to know I'm not the only one who is worried about the consequences of learning as I go. I've been worried that I wouldn't be up to the task of revising it all, but obviously the only solution is to dive in and try.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

It's all about the learning curve. Every project you work on requires you to learn more. When you go back and look at an old project you can see its flaws more easily. All you have to do is just keep on writing and growing and eventually you'll reach your goals...(at least that's what I tell myself).

anonymeet said...

Oh yeah. Know just what you mean. Many times, I open up a section to revise, and I cringe! More often than note, it's a section I remember being SO EXCITED about when I wrote it. Then - oy!

But the important thing is what you're already doing - keep going! You can also try out a new way of writing or revising.

For me, with my current WiP, I've been experimenting with revising on paper rather than on computer. I read through with this four part box form I made. One box is "Keep," one is "Delete," one is "Revise," and one is "Add." One form for each chapter. I go through and make macro level notes on the form about which things belong in each box and do some limited line editing on the page. I found it helps keep me from jumping back into writing, when I need to think about the bigger picture.

Bluestocking said...

Lori, oh yeah, definitely embarrassing ;)

Elizabeth, of course you have to try :) That's all any of us can do. But it's always a surprise when you thought you could put one part of your MS to bed and realize that, yeah, it still needs (a lot) more work.

Sharon, the learning curve thing is definitely where I'm at right now. And my output is not keeping up with me.

Anonymeet, I'll have to try out your revising system on my next project. Right now, post-its for macro level changes don't always work.

Thanks everyone!

The Sisterhood said...

I completely identify with the feeling, Bluestocking. After extensively revising my first novel, I also found that the beginning was the weakest part (which means the revisions were not over! :[ ) I'm just hoping this second novel is more consistent (technically speaking.) If it weren't for editors and the fact that a novel actually has to go into print, I think writers would never finish!

Lorena

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