Just TRY

I found my novel revision floundering a bit. As I said in my last blog post, I’ve been hesitating moving too far forward because I could only read five pages every two weeks at my critique group and I valued their feedback. But, I realized that if I wait for that, it’ll take a couple years to get through the book. Not ideal.

I was at a couple chapters that I liked, but liked with a “but.” The problem was, I wasn’t sure what the “but” was. (A lot of wass in that sentence.) I’d read them and think they’re fine, they’re ok, but that’s the problem — they’re “fine” and “ok”, not “great. I want to read more.” They weren’t what they could be.

I had some ideas, but I was hesitatant to make them. What if they didn’t work? I didn’t want to mess up what I had already.

This is the bad thinking. No one should think like this, especially in the time of the computer, because a quick “save as” preserves your earlier work. (Even if you write in a notebook or on a typewriter — some do — you can keep your earlier pages and start writing on a fresh piece of paper.)

But also, I thought, I didn’t want to waste my time.

This is even worse thinking. When it comes to writing, there is no wasting time — unless it’s the time when you’re not writing or not thinking about your writing. (Fun, chores and general life are allowed and encouraged too, of course. 🙂 ) But through our writing, even those days when what we write isn’t the best, we learn and we get new ideas.

My floundering with these chapters led to me just not write. I used it as an excuse to sleep in. I’d have a late night the night before and instead of setting my alarm for early, I’d set it for later with the reasoning that a) I needed the sleep (very true) and b) I wasn’t sure what to do with these chapters anyway, so I might as well sleep on it.

That didn’t work. I got more sleep, which is good, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with my novel revision, which just frustrated me.

So, on Monday, I set my alarm for 5am again (I have to set it for 5 so I can get up at 6) and I started going through the chapters. Nothing much came to me on Monday, except more of, “I want to do something, but what?”

On Tuesday, I figured out what I didn’t like about the chapters but thought, “It might not be exciting, but it works and gets the information across.”

On Wednesday, I remembered an author’s seminar at the SCBWI summer conference last year in which the author’s main message was “TRY”. Try the scene in six different ways and pick the best one. Try what you think might work and what you think might not work. Just TRY. So, on Wednesday, I did a “save as” (I have a document of “discarded chapters” where I store old stuff in case I could use it later) and I cut. I cut out all the stuff that I thought dragged down the chapters — the first seven paragraphs of one of the chapters and a bunch off the end — and I rewrote.

An amazing thing happened along the way: I got an idea for the scene that I hadn’t had before, one that I think is much more entertaining to read as well as much more interesting for the characters and plot development. It doesn’t change the story, but it makes it a lot more rich. Now, I’m excited about my revision again and longing to get back to it.

The funny thing is, if I hadn’t cut out the stuff I was afraid to lose, I wouldn’t have had this new idea.

So, I pass on the same advice: TRY.

Got any advice you’d like to share?


3 Responses

  1. Cliff Burns says:

    Revising is incredibly draining, exhausting, mind-numbing, soul-sucking…and absolutely essential to creating works of lasting merit. Revise with a composer’s precision–every beat, every comma should be considered, weighed, measured, hum, sung. Three years of editing on my last novel, SO DARK THE NIGHT. An experience I wouldn’t wish on a mortal foe…

  2. Wow, three years. Yeah, it’s a lot of work. But there are good days. 🙂 And you’re right: revise with precision. Thanks, Cliff.

  3. Cliff Burns says:

    Hang in there, write “in defiance of all the world’s muteness” (Nabokov)…

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