Things get ugly before they can get pretty again. That’s something important about revision. That’s something important about revision that’s hard to stomach and easy to forget.
I’ve finished a first draft, yes—but a very, very imperfect first draft that needs a lot of work. After discussion with beta readers, I’ve figured out a direction that I can go for an initial crack at revision. It’s going to take a significant amount of work and overhaul, and will change the composition of the manuscript dramatically. In ways that’s exciting; in other ways, it’s terrifying thinking about how much is ahead of me. But I will live. In actuality, it’s not the work that’s been painful and fear-inducing; work needs to be done, and it will happen. I am, in ways, at my best when I am working and running with an idea and clicking into the mechanisms.
What is the worst is the physical ripping apart of something that I’d crafted to be seamless. It’s watching the TKs going back into a manuscript that I’d worked so hard to remove them from. It’s watching gaping craters open back up when I’d spent so many hours plugging holes. It’s looking at massive question marks insert themselves into text that I’d swept clean. It’s watching sentences stop mid-word because I don’t have the ideas or the confidence to continue them. It’s creating new messes that I know I have to mop up, and knowing it may take years to get the house sparkling again.
Things get worse before they get better, right? Things get worse before they get better. But they get much better. Stronger. You have to trust that notion—and all the authors who have come before you who’ve trusted it, too—as you’re creating a war zone out of your own work. But, damn, if it doesn’t grow you up as a writer along the way.
"I remember someone in class, one of my friends, a guy, saying, ‘You know, you’re writing stories about women for women,’ and it had never dawned on me. It was so insulting—and now I’m like, You know what? Maybe I am writing for women. Not just for women, but I am a woman! And the fact that that’s something that literary women writers don’t talk about…I find that a little confusing, and I wonder if that makes younger literary women writers feel like there’s something less valuable to that."
- This quote was pulled from an interview I did for The Rumpus with Julia Fierro, author of Cutting Teeth and creator of the Sackett Street Writer’s Workshop. Talking with Julia was one of my most eye-opening conversations; as we sat down to dinner, I felt every during moment as if I was in the hands of a master. Julia understands everything from the bones of what goes into crafting a story to the politics that surrounds its release in the literary community, and talking through that entire scope as a young writer hoping to one day follow her path was, in so many ways, a lesson for me. MT
This quote was pulled from an interview I did for The Rumpus with Julia Fierro, author of Cutting Teeth and creator of the Sackett Street Writer’s Workshop. Talking with Julia was one of my most eye-opening conversations; as we sat down to dinner, I felt every during moment as if I was in the hands of a master. Julia understands everything from the bones of what goes into crafting a story to the politics that surrounds its release in the literary community, and talking through that entire scope as a young writer hoping to one day follow her path was, in so many ways, a lesson for me.
Reblogged from The Rumblr.
Alright, so here’s something: I finished the first draft of the novel manuscript. It’s insane to type, and it’s even weirder to say out loud, but there’s a big pile of paper sitting in front of me—262 pages—and it reads with an arc that starts in one place and ends in another. (Or so I think, at least.)
This all feels… strange, I guess. I can’t find another word for it, and, quite honestly, I haven’t had time to search for a synonym—I clicked straight into editing mode, and my brain hasn’t stopped thinking about revisions. I know I have so much work to do. I was sitting in a cafe when I eliminated the final “TK” in the manuscript, with my boyfriend across from me perched at his own laptop. “This deserves champagne,” he said, but I shook my head.
I learned a lot of things from the first manuscript, but one of the clearest lessons was that a writer will always have work to do. Not exactly that she’ll never be satisfied—because she has to let herself drink in moments of happiness or she’ll go absolutely nuts—but she will always have a window for improvement in her work. This time around, I’m a stronger writer, yes—but a stronger editor, and I have a maturer view on my prose to know that there’s a long road ahead in terms of what needs to be accomplished. (Patience has never been my strongest virtue, so there’s still that fight in all of this. I’m learning.) I know there are plot holes to address, characters who need to be developed, scenes that need to be added and deleted. Celebrating anything seems premature—or like a misdirection of precious energy.
I think there’s a little bit of disbelief in staring at this stack of pages, too. I am shocked with myself when, a little less than a year ago, I was terrified I’d never have another idea again. When I was staring at a blank page. When I had no faith in myself.
One of the things that I often forget is how much writing teaches me on a daily basis—but not just about being a writer. About being myself.
"Words are living legends, swollen with significance. We string them together to make stories, but they themselves are stories, encapsulating rich, runny histories."
"How a novel finishes is there’s a moment when you know it has problems, and you don’t know how to fix them. That’s when you’re done."
I don’t write about my personal life in here all that much any longer. That’s for a host of reasons: foremost, this is a blog about my writing life; recently, I’ve seen a cool uptick of the number of professional doors opened in that writing life; but, mostly, because 2013 has been mostly pretty terrible. So, the notion of seeing that calendar page turn? In the words of someone really important who’s recently come into my life, I’m not mad about it.
Nothing has ever changed more in a year than it did this year. Sometimes, change is good. When we’re the catalysts for our own change, we’re lucky; when unexpected change works out well, we’re even luckier. That’s usually not the case, however. Change usually comes in unanticipated waves, and even the change we create ourselves comes with unanticipated side effects.
I’ve learned that, usually, change must be thrust upon us, or we won’t create it ourselves. People, instinctively, don’t like change, and that’s why we sink into our routines, which are comfortable, and familiar, and like a cradle in the chaos. When this happens, however, the worst thing we can do is let it happen to us—to be pawns of a situation. It’s fine to take time to digest. To recover. It’s not fine to use change for blame if we’re doing nothing to ameliorate conditions. It’s not fine to not ameliorate conditions.
I’m not sure what I’ve learned about whether people change or not. I’ve lived a lot of life, but I’m not sure if I’ve lived enough to figure that out yet. I’ve changed a lot over the course of many years; I’ve changed a lot over the course of this year. I’m not yet sure how deep change runs, however, or from where catalysts stem; I’m not yet sure how much one other person—or many, for that matter—can have an impact on one’s change, no matter how people argue that change is only on the level of the individual. People do change together. That I’m sure of.
Mistakes feel permanent when you are in the throes of them. Most mistakes are not. Some, however, are. Some sting less over time. Jury’s out on some of the others. Some will feel like mistakes one day, and not other days. That’s fine, too.
Sometimes people will say bad things are a blessing in disguise, and it’s the last thing we want to hear. But god, they are right.
One thing that is hard to remember in the cognitive clutter of every day is that we are blank slates to other people. None of the ways other people know you are the ways someone new is going to learn you; none of the ways someone knew the other person are necessarily the ways you’re going to learn the other person.
I’ve written before how I don’t believe that the changing of a year is meaningful; people walk into 12:00 AM with an identical set of conditions that they had at 11:59 PM. But maybe it’s time for me to suspend my disbelief for once.
"I wonder what the difference between love and control is, but I’m afraid to look those words up in a dictionary."
Slow drips. The word count has, somehow, mercifully ticked up to 36,000, and I’m still finding this process so strangely different than that of the first novel. For the most part, now, things are coming in steady five-hundred word sections—I am grateful things are coming at all, true. But patience is not my greatest virtue, and neither is a steady stream of ideas, for that matter. I’m finding I’m having to rely on myself to always have something to come back to, which isn’t always the easiest, but I’m training myself to sit down and write, even with no planned trajectory.
Having allowed myself to embrace the fragmented shape of the manuscript without worrying about filling in the lines immediately is also liberating, which is something I talked about with Catherine O’Flynn when I interviewed her for Bookslut this past month.
"In the end, I just had to have a little humility and realize I wasn’t the really the boss of my own process, and I couldn’t impose what I thought was a logical structure on it. The only way I could work was to go back and do what I’d always done, which was go back to writing things out of sequence and piecing it together. It sounds like I accepted a degree of failure, but in the end, I ended up being happier with it than perhaps I have been in the past, perhaps because I struggled with it so much, and we came to a compromise, the book and I."
This morning, I woke up with an idea of where to take the 1155-word section late in the book that I abandoned yesterday because I wasn’t sure where to take it. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I’ve wedged myself into the chair in the café, as practice tells me I should, to try it out. It may fail miserably, and if it does, I’ll head back to the drawing board. And if it works, I’ll be another 500-plus words closer to making this round, making it whole. If this were my first book, I think I would have just let it hang until the idea were fully formed, or until I’d at least talked it through with someone. That, at least, is progress I don’t worry about measuring in a word count.
I’m now 23,500 words deep into this new manuscript. That’s, I suppose, enough heft that it’s time to really own it; I have a new book going. (It’s weird—and at times somewhat horrifying—to say aloud.) And although I have felt myself taking things I have learned from the last book and putting them to the page—or subsequently not, if that’s been the lesson—what’s been most surprising to me is how incredibly different the experience of writing this project has felt.
Here, I know how the story ends. I’m not pushing against a question and climbing up an arc and wondering when the drop off will come; rather, I’m on the other side of it, shaping it backwards. I’ve written a lot of the last third of the book; not a lot that connects, but many of the scenes that happen with my main character that drive the unraveling of the final action of the story. Filling in going the other direction is a challenge of other magnitude, with lots of TKs for details I haven’t built yet, and I’m composing with the understanding that a lot of what I write will have to be overhauled and re-infused with the emotional stakes of the pages I’ve yet to write. Having penned an entirely psychologically-driven book before, I feel almost like a poorer writer laying down a barebones framework of plot, action, whateveryoucallit that I know will need to be pulled apart brutally. It’s strange when someone asks me, “When can I read something new?” and I tell them, “There’s nothing really to read” in 80 pages of prose because everything is so disparate. I know I need everything that I’m writing in the back every bit as much as I need what will exist in the front, but what’s there feels so naked without the sections that precede it.
Being in first draft mode, I have the ability right now to face only the prose I want to face, the characters and settings and situations I am feeling that day. And that, I have learned, is a luxury. When comes time for revision, I don’t get so lucky. Regardless, I’m happy I have momentum to write at all. I thought it’d be a long, long time before I’d have an idea for a new story, a character I’d want to write, and some semblance of words on a page — no matter what it all looks and feels like.
"…they talked of intentions and projects, convinced, as only new lovers can be, that saying what you wanted was the same as saying who you are."
"It hurts me how inefficient the novel writing process is."