Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How I Write: Revision Narrative

Last Wednesday the series was about revision, this week again about revision. Why? Because revision goes on forever. Don’t be surprised if next week is about revision as well (it’s not actually) because that is the way revision rolls, all over you!

So I promised a revision narrative for the book that as of yet has to be named: for more about revision narrative go here.

My book saw its first spark of life at the end of my MFA career at the same time that my second baby was born. Unlucky for it. I was totally burned out and pledged to take a three year break from writing. When I returned from that prescribed and methodical break I pushed through a -2 draft (I like the term zero-draft because of what it implies, but this draft was so much less than zero). I came out with the basic frame for the story and I learned that writing is not like riding your bike. Assuming that riding your bike is more of a feel, like getting a feel for balance, that you never lose however long you go without. Writing is definitely a muscle. And my writing muscles were atrophied. I was disheartened. When my daughter was in kindergarten I wrote -1 draft. -1 might be a generous label. This draft took me about 6 months and then I took it to the Big Sur Writers Conference(hugely generous gift from my mom), a fantastic place to make connections to other writers, learn a ton about both the industry and craft in a very beautiful location--I understate--it is sublime. But I don’t suggest you go with a -1 draft.

There was a lot of residue from my MFA experience in that -1 draft. I had thrown everything in and the bathwater too--including mixed metaphors, which I kinda love (they don’t actually encourage you to use mixed metaphors in grad school). While I was at Big Sur, with feedback in hand I took the scalpel to my first chapter and whittled it down and received glowing second reports. What I learned is that I could revise, and serious revision pays off(as does feedback). But the other comment I received was: the book needed to be in first person. I had this whole 50 thousand words in third. A ridiculously poorly written piece of junk that had this sort of experimental meta narrator I was into because she was quirky and self concerned and a little omnipotent. I knew I had to get rid of her, but to totally rewrite the thing from another perspective???

I went home and rewrote the first chapter in first and third person. And liked them both. They were two completely different books. I threw out -1 draft and started writing 0 in first person for no better reason than somebody had told me to, because I honestly couldn’t tell what was better. It took me a year to write. I practiced putting one word after the other without much confidence. It wasn’t until Andy, my writing partner, came along, at the end of that seriously long period of time that I started to get ongoing feedback and really learn what and how my prose affected people. He read everyone of those seriously bad words and told me what he thought. I started to see how words and lines and phrases worked on people and how a reader’s imagination filled in the blanks. I also developed the story and its intricate tapestry of theme--this is an odd little book with an even odder tapestry. Finally after a year of that, I got some online help and that is where revision came into own. I had been relying rather heavily on a ruse in order to hold my readers interest. I had learned in grad school that I wrote beautiful prose but there was no tension to sustain a reader through its winding path. So trickery was my response. My newest critiquers have confirmed what I learned in grad school. I finally had deconstruct the sham structure and face some of my characters more serious hardships, which led me to this current draft. Which finally has a MC that is likable and flawed. And maybe even some interest. Maybe this is draft 1.

And just to refer back to that bicycle thing; now that I got my writing muscle back. I find there is a little balance that goes on too. It has taken me this long to start to get the feel of this thing, maybe it’s being able to balance craft and flow.

A note on my narrative: I left out a lot and it's way too long! I would grade waaaay down for this verbosity. And in the end this covers how I approached revision. I think it would be even more interesting to look at my specific book and take the pieces apart. But for now--enough is enough.