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Friday, July 20, 2012

HOW REVISING A NOVEL IS LIKE GOING TO THE DENTIST


I once read that revision can be like having your teeth pulled. I would also add that it can be like pulling teeth. 

Trying to find the optimal way of adding what may be missing information about a character or point of view without muddling up what’s already there that’s working, can leave you staring at the computer screen until you notice how dusty it’s become. You can try for a week or more re-writing the opening of a scene in several different ways, when all it takes is a sentence.(But it’s got to be the right one.)

I’m working on the revision of my new novel Muckers, and what I’ve found most helpful is to actually go back to what I did in kindergarten: cutting and pasting and working with magic markers.(Well, I used crayons back then and finger paint, but its magic markers now.)

What I’ve done is make a bulletin board order of all the scenes in my novel (I love to do this actually), and the color codes all mean something to me.

What it shows is the pacing of the novel and what scenes may be too cluttered before say, a game (my book’s about football), or how long it takes my characters to get where they ought to be. The push pins allow me to move things around, but of course when you do that you’re also in for a lot of trouble since when one thing moves you aren’t really just altering that one scene, you’re changing every reference and nuance that worked when that scene was in its original place. You need to move carefully, like a game of high-stakes chess. It also takes a ridiculous amount of time to move even an inch.


Of course, there’s also the objectivity factor when deciding what really needs to be revised. As the writer, you know everything about the story and everyone in it, yet you must try to forget what you know or at least, put that information in a state of suspension while you attempt to read the story like a fresh reader would. (Note: this is impossible, but you keep trying.)

If all this sounds really complicated, it’s because it is. Writing is a vocation that can be gut-wrenching. But if you start believing that a little too much, it can also derail the revision process, and you might start thinking about wanting to get your teeth pulled, instead. It’s at that point I also like to remember the other line I’ve read about revision from political cartoonist Tim Kreider:

“For a long time I imagined that the time after I’d finally finished this book would be a kind of indolent, well-deserved afterlife. It’s hard to accept that the part you had to make it through to get where you thought you wanted to be was where you wanted to be all along. The part you hated was your favorite part.”

2 comments:

  1. I'm setting up my dentist appointment right now!

    I've spent two years...wow! two years is a long time, revising my novel Stitches, and I don't even have a buyer yet! I finally quit with the revisions and decided that it's finished.
    That was quite a revelation believe me, because as one of my favorite authors once told me. It's your baby and you're never finished revising it, even after publication, but at some stage you have to pat it on the bum and say goodbye!

    I can't wait to read Muckers, forget the dentist and get that book in hands!

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  2. Thanks, Jon. I'm looking forward to finishing the revisions for MUCKERS too,patting it on the butt and saying, "I can't wait to read you when KNOPF brings you out in hardback soon!" Have your copy reserved, Jon. Funny enough, Rich went to the dentist this morning and when he came back to write, he said he much prefers the revision process over a trip to the dentist.

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