Friday, January 1, 2010

How you fool yourself into revising

Happy New Year! We're back on task after a holiday vacation--here's wishing all of you a great year of reading, writing, teaching, and whatever else you do.

I just sent a novel draft to my literary agent--maybe and maybe not the version that will make its way to my editor, and certainly not the one that (with any luck) will see eventual publication. This is the third draft of this book--the first I finished in August, the second was a fast rewrite to give to Rhian. (That's it there, in the photo.)

Rhian's comments were fairly exhaustive, and during the semester I made myself a long list of changes, cuts, and additions to work on over break. The day after the last day of class, I dug in, and when I handed my grades in I started writing and revising as fast as I possibly could.

Rhian often says that I work too fast, and she's probably right. But every revision, I think, is a compromise between what you know you have to do, what you aren't admitting to yourself that you have to do, and how long you can bear to do it. I'm a fairly aggressive reviser, but I do it best in bursts of a few weeks--I have to declare completion in order to relax, so that I can gather energy for the next sortie. In my case, there will probably be another draft after my agent sees it, and then (again, with luck) several more with my editor. The result of this is that I'm always showing people inadequate versions of things--but for some reason I need to hear somebody else tell me when I've failed. I don't seem to have the strength to tell it to myself.

In any event, here's to a couple of weeks of nothing--a good way to start 2010, I think.

7 comments:

Blythe said...

The biggest problem I'm having right now is finding a balance between commitment to the book's future and recognizing that it is what it is--and what it is, essentially, is finished. It is time to stop revision.

My book is out with readers for blurbs right now. The first reader to respond* had some substantial and probably valid concerns about the latter half of the book. After a lot of agonizing I came to the conclusion that the reader's observations were reasonable, but it seemed the structure of the book had crystallized to the point where any flaws were flaws of the whole. There are no quick fixes to be had with minor tweaks.

If I write another book, I will certainly try to avoid making the same mistakes. I'm a bottomless well of mistakes, so I can make absolutely new ones.

(*The blurb itself was favorable. Oddly, I have a lot harder time taking the positive blurb to heart than the note sent along with it.)

sjwoo said...

Happy New Year! Congrats on getting the draft off your desk. I still feel like an amateur when it comes to all this, since this book I'm now writing feels so different than the first one. Unlike you, I think I work too slowly. Where's Freaky Friday when I need it?

It's a graphic-novel weekend for me -- finished Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia (loved it) and currently reading Craig Thompson's Blankets (loving it). Then it's Charles Burns' Black Hole. If they can figure out how to market graphic novels better (and make the books cheaper), I think the publishing industry may not be quite so dead yet.

Anonymous said...

Amazing as always

christianbauman said...

Ah, not having the strength to admit failure...needing to have it shown to you. Yeah, man. Couldn't agree more. Sometimes it just needs to be pointed out to you. Not because, honestly, you haven't seen it yourself. But because you're too exhausted to admit you see it yourself. And if no one else sees it, then maybe it's not broken. But they do, and it is, so back you go.

On the flip side, though (and I'm sure I'm not telling you anything, JRL), is learning who your trusted voices are. For me, that's about two people. My agent, and my wife. Which is not to say I haven't gotten good adivde from editors and others over the years...of course I have. But the only two people I trust completely are Diana and Brenda (the aforementioned, respectively). Because the only thing worse than being told that you've failed is being told that you've failed when in fact you haven't, but the seed of doubt has been planted, and it will be weeks before you can root that fucker out of the soil and have a clean patch of earth again. You know?

rmellis said...

I still think being a little more patient with your work would be a good thing, but you is what you is. And telling you to slow down would be like telling me to speed up.

If only!

jrlennon said...

Actually, I was lying awake in bed this morning thinking how the last 50 pages could be better. Right now they're hopelessly sentimental, except for the ending proper, which Rhian made me fix. But it isn't just the ending, it's the whole denoument...it goes on too long.

Hm.

jrlennon said...

Oh, Blythe, nice going on the forthcoming book! Blurbs are a great evil.

It is better to publish an interestingly flawed book than a tidy book that is afraid of doing wrong.