One of the Writer blogs I follow faithfully is written by Susan Swan.
I had the joy and privilege of studying with Susan at York University in the way-back. She is a fabulous teacher and one of my favourite writers as well. Her books include The Wives of Bath, The Western Light , and Stupid Boys Are Good To Relax With.
She is currently midway through work on a new novel and has begun keeping an online diary of the ups and downs she goes through in the process. The series is titled Anxiety Pancakes: Life in the Middle of a Novel. It is fascinating and incredibly inspiring and I’m sending all my writer pals over to check it out. (hint hint)
As y’all know… I too am midway through … thigh, chest, throat deep… in a new novel and … some days it’s a fricken struggle. It’s nice to have some company. Susan’s posts make me smile and they also get me thinking about things. I’ve taken to commenting on them each day and I’ve discovered a few other writers who are also joining in the conversation.
Susan writes about revisions. About how tricky it can be. Especially if we are revising as we work our way through a first draft.
How much should I revise before I move on? And why should I revise a chapter ten times if that chapter ends up on the cutting room floor? (Many chapters will end up not making it into my final draft. I know that from experience.) And yet, if I don’t revise, I may miss some key elements of the story or the characters, aspects or details that I need to keep writing. So–what to do? I’ve recently decided not to revise a chapter more than three times in the first draft. That means I can’t revise six to ten pages more than three times.
Because revising has its perils. It can give you a sense of control over something like novel writing that is not really controllable. As John Gardener once said, writing a novel is like setting sail in a rowboat, on the ocean, without a compass.
I used to rewrite the openings of my novels hundreds of times until my friend and writing buddy Marni Jackson pointed out that this exercise was a waste of time. I revised like this because it gave me the illusion of control but it stopped me from moving forward with my story. In fact, endless revising on the first draft can feel like masturbating without an orgasm. You think you’re making yourself feel good. But you’re really driving yourself crazy with frustration.
This kicked off the following response from me:
And again this hits me square in the gut (in a good way).
This morning I was playing around, talking to some of my characters about why the novel isn’t going well.
I’ve been working on this novel for what feels like – EVER. Through dry spells and diversions galore. I “thought” this draft … Got it all out there… The entire story… And that my work now would be MAINLY refining and polishing.
Methinks I am mistaken.
Truth is, this draft has opened up more questions for me. And though my initial urge was to dive in and … Wrestle this thing… Impose ORDER upon it… Bash it into line somehow… I think the scary truth may be that what I really need to do is – go deeper.
And…oh that makes me tired.
And… Oh that also gives me the tingle of excitement we get from knowing that there is more to discover.
I yearn for control.
And I also know that the juiciest, truest, work comes when I … Get the hell out of the way and let my characters loose.
I want to jump ahead to the time when I can see it and feel it all clear and I can wrangle and CRAFT the tale. But I’m not there yet.
Best wade in a bit farther.
I did a bit of work… and then popped BACK to her site to add…
Or…. a bit of wading and listening…
and a bit of fiddling/thinking about the structure….
fun fun fun
Cuz that’s where I’m at. It truly does feel like I have been working on Sanctuary for… eons. The story first came to me way back in 2008. But, what with LIFE and shite, we are really only midway through year two of SERIOUS work. That ain’t so long – for me. Mostly Happy took me six years. Hell, my first full length play took me five years to “get right” heh heh.
I recently read over what I was considering a true “first draft” of the novel and… my heart sunk. It doesn’t TOTALLY BLOW – but oh… there is so much work to be done. And it is work of … different types.
There are voices that are not… clear to me yet. I need to allow them to emerge – which means… let them loose.
There are scenes missing – leaped over or dropped in the process of getting to this draft – that need to be written or re-inserted.
There are events that I have no friggen idea as to why they are there – but that I’m not ready to toss yet. Things that are trying to … bring MORE to the story.
Scariest of all – I’m still not totally sold on whether I even have the right… narrative voice or POV or… oh man.
Much work to do… Much much work.
This story started so… simply. A story of an odd friendship, mixed in with a Noirish thriller. It is growing into… something else all together. The story of a town with a deep (and sometimes dark) history filled with a host of fascinating folks all elbowing their way into my heart. Every one of them – looking for sanctuary.
I am in turns – exhausted and thrilled by where I’m at with it right now.
In some moments, I want to chuck the whole thing away and … move on to something else. Something new and shiny and … SHORT.
And in other moments, I’m happy to be with this gang and excited about where we are headed.
Was wide awake at 3:30 this morning… running the timeline of the novel through my sleep deprived brain. Crawled out of bed at four and started scribbling.
Living the dream, baby. Living the dream.
And now… time to get back at it. I’m heading out this afternoon to go fishing in an ice hut parked out front of the shakey shack with my Pal, D. I’m bringing the sammiches.
Happy scribbling to all.
And seriously – go check out Susan’s posts. They will nourish you. I promise.
Thanks for stopping by.
Go easy ~p
ps- I’m taking part in a “blog party” this weekend. It’s organized by Vicki over at 2 Bags Full. It’s gonna be rather HUGE as she has something like 500 bloggers signed up. We’re all going to drop in on each other over the weekend. Whee! You can find out more info HERE. I should’ve posted about it earlier so fellow bloggers could jump aboard and participate. It’s too late to register your blog, but you can still come and play with us all. Let’s blog hop together. It’ll be fun.