a little bit louder and a little bit… better?
It is July, it is summer break, and it is time to return to the Tusi.
I have taken a month away from my manuscript, more or less, and now I need to start from scratch. It sounds terribly dramatic, but I’m going to put the entire first draft into a folder and open up a blank document, and type the whole story out again. I have a printed copy of the draft that is covered in red scribbles, and my notebook full of maps, timelines, character arcs, and a page full of “you said this at first but changed it to this later, fix it!!!!”
I tried, with previous novels, to work with the existing manuscript and just fix the stuff that was wrong, but it’s not nearly as effective as fully rewriting. There are authors out there who actually get rid of the entire first draft and don’t refer to it, instead doing the rewrite from their notes and the outline and what they remember, but I do want to preserve the parts that really work. The editing process is where the story comes to life; the complicated relationship I stumbled into in chapter 8 can be drawn back to the beginning, the crutch words I relied on to string my sentences together can be removed (really, just, very, etc), and the placeholder scenes can be transformed into the little moments that reveal important details about my characters or setting, rather than “they walked down a hallway” yet again.
The rewrite takes both more and less time than the first draft. There are some sections that I won’t need to change at all – often those are the ones that I blasted my way through, where the flow state hit and the story came out my fingers with no intervention from my prefrontal cortex. The parts that were a slog the first time will be worse now. I would love to do the whole thing by the time the kids go back to school but that seems unlikely. Not unless I get a surprising amount of time to myself. I am not good at being patient; I know that in general, 1000 words is the max I can push out at a time. Sometimes it’s a bad day and 400 words in two hours is as good as it gets, and some days are the flow state days. But usually the energy just dies at 1000 words and one hour. It’s hard work, which is easy to forget while reading a book in a day. Finishing it faster doesn’t get me any better chance of finding an agent and a publisher so it’s all arbitrary. Normally an arbitrary deadline is useless to me but for some reason when it comes to novel writing, it matters. Brains are weird.
This break time is, as I’ve said before, really important, so that I’m less attached to the words. The problem is that when I finished the first draft, I was fired up and enthused and also in the habit of writing every day. Then I let it sit, and now I’ve lost that fire and that habit, and I have to grit my teeth and establish both again. It’s frustrating. So many parts of writing are frustrating.
I also used the break to read a lot, and brush up on some story structure and writing tools. I hate reading books about story structure because they all think they’re God’s gift to authors and that they have the One True Way and everyone else is entirely wrong, stupid, and boring. I read Story Genius and found it utterly insufferable; 200 pages of preaching that I distilled into a single page in my Notes app. Most writing books are like self-help books, in that they should be a blog post or a pamphlet or a booklet, but the deal is for a full-length book so they bloat their material into 200 pages with bad examples. It’s so frustrating. The thesis of Story Genius is that the story is the most important piece, so one must make sure that one’s book gives the reader a reason to care about the story, and that stories are more than perfect prose or gripping plots. The protagonist needs an inner struggle that the reader can invest in, otherwise they won’t keep going. That’s useful info, I suppose, although I’m really glad I didn’t buy the book.
On my reread, it was very clear that the second half of the book is where I really figured out what I was doing. The characters are fuller, and it’s easier to care about them. The ship is interesting, and the plot moves along at a good clip. So that’s what I need to do for the first half. No big deal. (Eek.)
In and around this, I will be doing various kid activities – swimming, roller skating, basketball, library trips, and the Life Skills Boot Camp I’ve set up for them so they can learn how to clean and make scrambled eggs and grilled cheese. We’re off to a good start and with luck, I won’t have to load the dishwasher or clean the bathroom for most of the summer.
Currently reading: The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec – absolutely incredible. One of my favourites ever. And I’ve just started Saving Time by Jenny Odell. How To Do Nothing is another one of my favourites so I have high hopes for this one too.
Currently listening: Out of My Head by First Aid Kit. I love them so much.
Currently eating: garbage cookies! Take any choccy chip recipe and add stuff to it. I put in pretzels, popcorn, Smarties, choc chips, Oreos, and mini marshmallows. A delightful sugar overload.