Writing It In, Writing It Out

It’s been quiet on the blog for a couple days. I’m thick into revisions now, and it’s a whole other place to be. A place not conducive to writing something new, like a blog entry. My brain is in critical mode, cutting, pasting, and rewriting mode, and it has no time for the passion and excitement of creating something fresh. Maybe that’s why there’s so little information from authors and others about the process of revision, how to do it–because when you’re in it, it’s hard to write about. And when you’re done, maybe you’re just glad to be done. There is this, though, and it’s pretty good:

The best bit starts at 5:15 to about 6:20.

It’s funny to me how people who are accomplished in something tend to think that whatever method they use is THE way to do it. Even though a hundred other accomplished people do it differently. There’s a lot of “This is how you must” and “You really have to” in that clip, but whatever. I don’t do it the way those authors do, except that I do cut quite a lot on the first rewrite. Here’s what I’ve done so  far:

  • I dove right into revisions within hours of finishing the final scene of the first draft. No setting it aside for me. I get the point of setting it aside, and I also don’t think it’s necessary for everyone right away. I will probably get some distance from it after the first set of rewrites, or when I send it out for beta, but for now I’m making progress and it’s working, so I’m going with it.
  • I revised five chapters in quick succession, within a few days.
  • I handed them to my sons and my husband to read.
  • They loved them. Carey compared the chapters favorably to several published authors and said “It’s riveting” and “I want more.”
  • Encouraged, I plowed forward on a couple more chapters and handed them off.
  • Carey said, “Hm.” I said, “What.” He said, “Not AS good.” I said, “Crap.”
  • We spent three hours talking through what was wrong and why, and what it needs. I love my husband. We figured out that the main problem is that I didn’t have any idea what one of the main characters was even doing in the book, why she was even there. She was just a place holder with a cardboard personality. Amazing that Carey could already see that, from that one chapter, when I didn’t even realize it. Hm.
  • I spent two days figuring out where the major plot points are, and what that character is doing, who she is and why she belongs in the story (I seriously considered cutting her out, or subsuming her under another character, but in the end she earned her way back in). Fleshed out another supporting but important character.
  • Began a re-write of the chapter that was most “hm”-worthy. Didn’t get far, but at least I know where it’s going.
And that’s where I am now.

It’s not exactly fun. There’s no growing word count. No “Look how much progress I made” chart. No: Look, I wrote 1200 words today go me! Also, I totally don’t identify with Sinead Moriarty. She talks as though her revision process involves a series of minor tweaks and occasionally she has to rewrite something. There is nothing minor, nor tweakish, about my revision process.

You must begin in confidence and revise in persistence.

(I don’t remember where I read that, sorry–ping me if you know the citation.) Today I only wrote 300 words. Yesterday, none at all, unless you count penciled notes on plot points. And I’ve deleted more than I’ve put in. My draft is shrinking.

I have created copious amounts of supporting materials, however. There’s now a pencil-written outline, with a list of scenes. A “character sheet” (HP, Constitution, armor class, etc.–no, not really) for each of four characters (more are coming). And a separate pull-out document containing the first part of a re-write on that really sucky scene.

I guess that’s why Carlo Gebler’s comments on Hemingway, in that clip above, hit me today. It’s comforting to think the reader will just know. 

Are you in revisions on anything right now? How do you approach it? Any words of wisdom to help me through?

4 thoughts on “Writing It In, Writing It Out

  1. It’s impossible for me to describe the process of revision. It’s always different. Some things work sometimes, other times they don’t work at all. It’s so much intuition.

    Do the characters feel like they have forward momentum? Does everything they do connect to their motivations of the moment? I ask myself that when things feel flat. Also I have this Jane Austenian obsession with grappling with conflicting motivations, so I have to tinker with interior monologue a lot, and there’s a whole different set of questions there.

    Yeah. I can only say, go with what you feel. You can feel when something is phoned in. It’s usually something you’ve written that you don’t quite understand yourself, as if you’re experiencing it like a reader, swept away with it. That’s bad. As a writer you need to know exactly why anything is happening at any given time. You need to be able to write whole essays about why when John walks into the room and adds yet another dish to the sink, Jane realizes she doesn’t want to make dinner that night. There’s a dozen things leading up to that, so much so that Jane not wanting to make dinner becomes the only plausible reaction to another dish going into that sink. (Of course she might still make dinner, but angrily.)

    Some things do surprise you during the writing stage, but in the revision stage you need to know exactly why they surprised you, and if you can’t say why then you need to cut it. (And remember the best surprises when reading stories are the ones where you didn’t see it coming and yet it makes perfect sense.)

    It’s such intuition, which is why I must disclaimer that every universal “a writer must” statement I made up there only really applies to me. Not to mention I’m ridiculously character-centered. This probably wouldn’t apply so well to someone plot-centered or atmosphere-centered or something.

  2. “You need to be able to write whole essays about why when John walks into the room and adds yet another dish to the sink, Jane realizes she doesn’t want to make dinner that night. ”

    YES exactly that. There was a good deal of that in first draft, too. The more characters in a scene, the longer it took, because I needed to know exactly what and why everyone was doing what they were doing, saying what they were saying, and it is EXACTLY like writing an entire essay–that nobody will ever read.

    It really opened my eyes to a whole level of respect for good novelists. It’s like every five published words required about two hundred that will never be seen.

    Thanks for sharing your process–or lack thereof. :) I’m a character-driven writer, too. I created the characters and the situation, and just kind of watched what they would do with it. They each chose whether to be in the book or not by whether they were motivated to propel the action forward. Some of them are still deciding.

    So, anyway, everything you said makes sense to me. :)

    • That’s probably why I like writing scenes with just two people. Because I’m lazy. Less motivations to grapple with. Well, I should cut myself some slack, because anything with two people is naturally more intense emotionally. Because privacy.

  3. I watched that clip about taking things out and the reader knowing. I saw this used to good effect recently in Game of Thrones. (No spoilers, don’t worry.) Character 1 had just learned he was being forced to marry Character 2 against her will, and he was going to go break the news to her, but they didn’t show the scene where he told her. Even though that was a pretty huge freaking scene. It would have been an INTERESTING scene. However, because they cut it, it made the whole wedding and the scene after the wedding suuuuuuuuuper interesting. Not only were you watching what was happening, you were gleaning exactly what they felt about getting married to each other by how they interacted. Instead of getting that all at once when he told her he was going to marry her, you got it slowly, in crumbs, spread out over many scenes.

    So, you can have your interesting 1-minute scene which will spell out the wedding and post-wedding stuff and make watching those things sort of didactic. Or you can cut the scene and make everything else interesting. No time wasted!

    And the only way you can really see the potential for these cuts (I’ve found) is by thinking with every scene, “What will happen to the rest of the story if I cut this?”

    Come to think of it, I did this in my fanfic. Picard set off to do something and no one knew why, and Picard himself wasn’t thinking about why so the reader couldn’t know it either, but then Q showed up and guessed why and confronted him on it. And they argued all about Picard’s motivations there. It would have been stupid to relay Picard’s motivations twice, in him thinking about it and then arguing about it, but I couldn’t very well cut the part where they argued. That’s the showing. That’s the meat. So I cut the internal monologue, because who likes that anyway.

    (This happened on a chapter break. I cut it right before Q and Picard arguing about Picard’s motivations. And one of my readers actually guessed exactly what Picard was doing, which was probably one of the best writing compliments I’ve ever gotten. That means I set it up well. That means when they start arguing about it, it will make perfect sense and it won’t feel out of nowhere.) /bragging

    And now I really need to go work out. Fun talking about this! Thanks for reading. :P

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