A Dream Revised

My novel-in-progress is about 10 years old, a dream that started when my oldest child was born. In the beginning, all I wanted was my story to drift upon paper. I didn’t censor or edit myself during this tumultuous time. As a brand-new mother I was already vulnerable to low self-esteem, a constant doubt that rippled through my days. Am I good enough to do any of this?

The one urge that kept me driven was my passion for writing this story. It didn’t matter to me, at the time, if it was publishable material. I only cared about building this nether world and a community of characters who would never, from that first day, leave me alone.

Fast forward about two years, and I was determined to publish my book. But I knew it wasn’t going to soar as is. So, I started taking classes, workshops. I attended conferences, joined a writer’s group, networked. Shared my story with others.

I have revised it based on feedback from fellow writers as well as my own decisions. I have gone through close to a dozen drafts. Some drafts were a reworking from cover to cover; some drafts were solely about character overhaul or a subplot alteration. Regardless, each draft had a large enough scope and influence that twisted the work into a different story than what I first wanted to write. There were changes I made because I doubted myself. Then there were changes I made that I ‘unmade’ and reverted back to the original idea. There were omissions I made that I still grieve, and there are additions that make me proud.

As I consider the history, the making of this novel I realize—with some regret, some satisfaction–that the current version is nothing like my original version, the one I wrote when my daughter napped.

I recently read a thought-provoking post on Even More BonusParts regarding the difference between being an artist or a craftsperson. I don’t know if I’ve spent the past 10 years on this story as an artist or as a craftsperson.

As an artist, I fell in love with the story and the universal message it shares. This is the story that got me writing again after I lost my courage to write. Even after 10 years of nurturing it, I have not lost my passion for it nor my faith that it’s a good story.

As a craftsperson, I veered away from (most of) my original story idea because word count was too high, plot had too many holes, not enough action upfront, unclear character motivation—killing fields for a book I want published.

All of this makes me think about the word vision in the term revision. Perhaps revision isn’t a dismantling of an idea, but a refinement. A propping up of the original vision, brushing off the grime and scrubbing it until it glows all shiny-brand-new. Like chrome on an antique car.

I’d like to think that the changes I made were not at the mercy of my weaknesses as a person, but at the mercy of my inexperience and timidity as a writer. I’d like to think, as Mayumi suggests, that my story is the result of a blending of artistry and crafts‘wo’manship. That as I rewrote this story, I learned more about the art and the craft of writing. That the original vision is still there, but dressed to go out.

Final NaNo Update

Well, I just heard from my friend, Kady, who gave herself a NaNoWriMo challenge for the month of February. If you missed my posts on this, you can check them out here and here.

She wrapped up her 50,000 words this past week, on the 29th. She is excited about the story, and she wants to complete it. That’s a great thing, and that doesn’t always happen.

I know of many writers who start, falter, and abandon their work. Reasons vary, but I think the biggest reason I hear is that the story was boring to write. Either they couldn’t think of anything to make happen, or what was happening wasn’t compelling enough. Another common reason I hear is that it got too overwhelming, too random, too unweildy, and they lost control.

Kady says that over the next few months she plans to complete the novel, re-read, and revise. She is contemplating about finding a local writing group to help her in this endeavor, so it sounds like she is really serious about this. And that’s the next biggest commitment after completion. Whether or not she can follow through on revisions.

Feeling excited after a first draft is common. It is easy to get swept away with the high of creating something new and original. Going back to revise can be the ultimate downer, especially if you don’t know how to revise. All writers have their own special methods, I don’t think there is any one special way to revise. However, having said that, if you don’t know what works best for you, then you will revise inefficiently.

The gap between rough draft and second draft (or first draft, if your rough is reallllly rough, like outline form-rough) is a good time to take a writing workshop. Get a feel for what a story is supposed to do from one stage to the next. There are plenty of workshops on structure, plot development, world building, characters, or some other key element. Perhaps telling yourself to take three months to learn some of the mechanics of story building might be helpful to get a stronger feel for your story.

Taking the time out for a workshop is also beneficial in that you are taking time away from your story. It is much easier to revise your drafts with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.

Personally, I love revising. I love getting down and dirty with individual scenes and dialogue exchanges and intricate detail. I love turning something bland into something explosive. But it takes practice, it takes time, it takes energy, it takes a love for the story. And I never get it right on the first try. I can’t think of a single sentence that I wrote for the first time that didn’t undergo some sort of change at some point.

So, I applaud Kady for doing what a lot of people find impossible. I know that she’s proud of herself and her accomplishment. As a stay-at-home mom of 3 boys under the age of 8, finding time to write is a job in itself.

She sums up the gig of writing the same way I see it:  This NaNoWriMo challenge “definitely showed me that if I REALLY want to do something then I can find the time.”

Amen.

Flashback to NaNoWriMo 2011

Anyone else out there dared to go back to their NaNoWriMo novel to see what you actually did in 30 days???

I did. This week I’ve been taking peeks at Ghost Light, the 50,000 word novel I wrote in November 2011. And I am happy to say it has possibilities!  I will be writing a second draft…

After my quick, albeit wary, review, I have a general idea of the problems I need to tackle as well as the areas that are scruffy but promising.  I am pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoy reading about my protagonist’s antics. I like the twists that I worked into the structure, and I really like the love triangle that sort of wiggled its way up through the cracks in the plot. I hadn’t planned on themes like betrayal, abandonment, death—but I’ve got 50,000 words tracking frantic, doomed relationships. It is readily apparent that I need to focus on exactly what is happening to my characters.

The next bullet on the agenda is research. The story takes place in New York City (Broadway specifically), as well as Hollywood in the 1980s-1990s. I need to research stage actors and everything about them; for example, how they make a living from one play to the next.

There is a lot of writing that I will throw away. Scenes that are a result of the writing frenzy and not because they belong there. That’s okay.

I also need to figure out how to really end it. I have a general idea, but it’s a little too easy for my liking. Additionally, I love how the novel begins, but as it stands now, there isn’t a lot that weaves the beginning throughout the novel, especially at the end. In order to maintain that thread, I need to somehow build the end so that the novel is more cohesive.

It definitely went off into a different tangent towards the last third. That could be a result of a sub-plot or simply because I lost my stride. It ain’t easy keeping up the pace of 2,000 words a day and write engaging, intelligent material that makes sense.

Overall, I would say this was a successful project that helped me produce a fantastic framework of a novel. I would recommend this approach to anyone who feels they simply can’t write a thing, or if they suffer from writer’s block. It was a treat to be a part of a group of people worldwide who love writing as much as I do, and who are willing to push themselves to their outer limits.

Has anyone gone back to their NaNo experiment to see how it reads? Will you continue to work on it or ditch it?