Revising the Novel: Grinding it Out

I’ve got the structure and plot of the novel down. I could feel it when I submitted it to the editor I’ve hired and she agreed. It took a solid year to get it from various character threads that moved through time and action, into a story that touches on thematic concerns, contains character arcs, and creates a sense of rising tension and resolution. (And of course, it took 2 years of work prior to that, too.) Not all those things are firing on all cylinders yet, but they’re there. Working together. Thank goodness.

My next deadline is already around the corner: July 10th. Less than six weeks away, I’m going to attempt to start and complete my 5th revision of the novel during this tight timeframe for several reasons. First, I’ve been empowered by my novelist writing friend Abigail. She read my editor’s feedback and much of it settled on her the same way it settled on me (in other words, the feedback felt mostly right, with the exception of a few stylistic differences of a opinion and a tad more willingness to break the “norm”). Although we both had similar impressions of the critique, the difference between me and Abigail is that she actually knows what steps to take next in response to that impression. She’s a graduate of the “best” fiction writing program in the United States (Iowa–of course–albeit a few decades ago), has written and published two novels, and is a tenured creative writing professor whose career encourages her to think about these sorts of things deeply and critically. Between the great input I received from the editor and Abigail’s go-get-’em attitude, I agreed to grind out the pages to the best of my ability between now and the deadline.

Four days into revisions, I’m thrilled to report that I can finally feel that momentum and lightness across the keyboard that I’ve heard other novelists describe to me. “Just grind it out,” or “Just get in there and start throwing stuff around,” or “Who cares if it comes out i order or not, just do it!” are all things I’ve heard for years…and never, ever been able to get behind experientially. Not with full-length work, in any case. In general, I write slowly. This has never bothered me, because I know that the outcome will be strong. I may spend 2-4 hours at the desk and get only 200-800 words, but I’m also not going to write 14 drafts. Not even 10 drafts. Probably not even 6 drafts. Perhaps that’s a nice skill to have in this writing life, but when it comes to the novel, I have to confess that my slow pace had me wondering whether I was even capable of feeling that rush of the story tugging my fingers along.

It helps to wake up at 4:30 or 5:50 in the morning. I never attempt this during wintertime (more like 7am, that season), but ever since Brad and I returned from our honeymoon on West Coast Time, I’ve continued to wake earlier and earlier. It makes for some sand-baggy afternoons, but if that’s the only side effect in trade for stellar writing mornings, I’ll take it. Over the course of this weekend, I added 3,000 words to my barely 60,000 word manuscript. A pretty good percentage increase…and I did this mostly by simply letting my scenes (and dialogue) expand. Thanks to the feedback from the editor, and thanks to being freed from the mental focus required to get the story’s structure down in the first place, I can now “get in there and start throwing stuff around.” I look at the scene. I see where it falls short or leaves the reader with a less-than-satisfactory impact. And I make something happen. No shoot ’em ups. No blood knives tossed into the bushes. Just pure and simple characterization…people talking, moving, reacting, and interacting with each other and the world around them.

Damn, this feels good.

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