On Revision and Addiction
Writing is rewriting. I've always known this. But I'm not sure that I've always understood it. If writing a first draft was like knitting a sweater, for example, then a second draft would be like ornamentation, adding on decorative elements, cutting off loose threads, or at worst weaving in an extra pattern. (Okay, I've never knitted anything in my life, but this analogy seemed to make sense.)
My current manuscript was in need of something much more drastic -- which I found kinda terrifying. How have I gotten this far without ever having to rip out reams of yarn or start all over?
I've often wished I had more technical training in writing fiction, would love to attend a program like the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA. But since I can't quite swing that at the moment, I did the next best thing. I turned to books. I spent my weekend reading about plot and structure. All weekend long I was yelling, "How did I not know this stuff?!" (The kids are used to the crazy writer lady who talks to herself and screams every now and then :))
I got out my trusty pen and a stack of paper and started drawing all sorts of diagrams and plot points. Now let me note here that I am what's called a "pantser", as in a writer who writes by the seat of their pants (or intuition), not by outlines. In fact, a number of years ago I went to a workshop on plot and the whole thing made me ill. The idea that one could decide that plot point x would occur on page 60 and plot point y would occur on page 120 made me want to hurl. In general, outlines give me hives.
But one of the books I was reading this weekend said 'Hey, it's fine to be a pantser. When you've finished your first draft, consider that to be an extended outline. Then look at it with the eyes of an outliner.' (I know, hives, right?) But actually, it's not so bad. I start to see why plot point x should actually happen sooner and why plot points y and z need to switch places. And suddenly I'm ripping out the guts of the manuscript and moving them all around --- and it's working!
Here's another little secret I learned this weekend: Human beings are addicted to worry. We seek it out all the time. It is the responsibility of the author to feed the addiction. That's why people buy the book. They want to have a meaningful, emotional experience. But without someone to worry over, they'll never fully enter the story.
So, in summary, authors are a little like mad scientists. We have to be a kind of insane. (Remember the crazy lady talking to herself and screaming.) We have to hack up our stories and torture our characters. And then we also have to be scientific, looking at the technical parts, the structure and how it all fits together (deep breaths, no hives).
And the craziest part is that diving into the scary stuff, really ripping the story apart and putting it back together, though terrifying, can be just as rewarding as the thrill of the first draft (for those of us who prefer that brand of torture -- but that's a whole other post.)
And in case you're wondering which books I was salivating over this weekend, they were Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and Writing Fiction for Dummies (don't judge!)
Happy writing/revising/reading and happy holidays!