Revising the Novel: Break Before the Bend

Last week, I met with my author friend for our monthly critique. We live across the river from each other and both write war fiction. Perhaps more important, although both our works are commonly described as war lit, we individually feel we’re “just writing fiction.” In other words, the wars are the backdrop or an informing force in our individual works, but not a limiting category. In either case, we’re a good fit for each other in terms of providing critical feedback and creative support. She’s written multiple novels, whereas I’m still lost in the middle of my first attempt and could use some advice. I’ve got a good eye for structure, where as she tends to write stories of the mind that could use some shaping.

What I learned from our last meeting is that I need to take another break. This wasn’t in my “plan,” so to speak, but as the novel has neared the bend toward its final third, I’ve grown more and more hesitant. I know what needs to happen in the concluding chapters, and even though I don’t know every scene I’ll write in order to get there, I find that this knowing can tend to make my writing more “plotty.” As each sentence unfolds, I feel the weight of those actions at the end of the book pulling like magnets into a lead core. That makes for sloppy writing and un-crafted decisions on my part–because the action can pull, pull, pull when instead I still need to be thorough and clear about characterization, taking my time to reveal reaction on the page and work the metaphors that bubble up organically. With guidance from my friend, I’ve agreed to take a break before rounding that final bend to the climax and quick conclusion of the work.

When she first made the suggestion, I’ll admit that I felt an immediate sense of relief spread throughout my body. I think I might have even smiled. If that wasn’t proof enough that her suggestion was spot on, I don’t know what could be. It’s the first week of December and I already feel the lifting. I can wake up each day and get my tasks done. I’m still pulling long days at the desk, but I can stop work after dinner and even take Saturday and Sunday off, in full. That’s healthy and normal…and ultimately I strive to have that kind of schedule no matter how I fill the hours at the desk. But if this fall taught me anything, it’s that I can’t run my business and write my novel on just 40 hours per week. Someday–yes, this will be possible–when my rates go up and other literary opportunities provide more/different income.

For now, I have accepted that novelling and running Writer at Large at the same time means 10 hour days, 6 days a week. I can do that and I did for most of this fall. Now I need a rest. I need permission to take a bit of time at the holidays and do a spontaneous family activity or two, as well. December still feels chock full of business, no doubt–but that’s better than how it felt before, which was impossible. The New Year will be a great time to give headlong back into the final bend of the novel with the hope of turning it over to an editor (for hire) in May. What else is happening in May? Oh yeah. A WEDDING! 🙂

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