Thursday, 10 January 2008

Baby Steps

Sometime during the third week of November - just after my NaNoWriMeltdown - I decided to resurrect a novel I wrote in 2006, which had been 'resting' (which in this case is another term for not being able to even contemplate reading a single line of it because it marked the end of an Almost Very Exciting period in my writing life).

I got as far as printing it out and putting it in an old box (that once contained something black, leather and knee-length, way-hey) along with my research notes and an editorial report that I'd received from Hilary Johnson. I left the box at the top of the stairs, intending to bring it down and start work on it just as soon as I'd cleaned the bathroom / sorted the laundry / changed a nappy. Did I say this was back in November? That's how long the box has been there. I've passed it every day, and during that time I've formed a very precise and satisfying 'feeling' about what the novel should be - it's all there, one beautiful lump in my mind. It's done. In my head.

Which is a problem. I can't quite bear to actually rewrite it; to pick the beautiful lump apart and do all the mechanics. In my head it's a good novel. In the box it's just . . . a mess.

Panicky and alone, I decided to form a support group for other writers who are in this situation - there are three of us so far. All as scared and bonkers and procrastination-crazy as each other. And I realised where I've been going wrong - I've been taking grand strides (albeit mentally) where I need to take Baby Steps.

So Baby Steps it is. And so yesterday I picked up the box and I brought it downstairs.

Today, I might open it.

p.s. Coincidentally, The Boy has just started walking . . . 

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Anne Brooke said...

Go for it, girl. You can do it. If it's any help, I tend to go through editorial reports, ring (in pink or green, if you're asking) the parts I feel are right and which I'd like to use to change the novel. Then I put the report back in the envelope for a couple of days until the parts I've highlighted are gelling more in my head.

After that, I open the envelope, go to the first ringed thing and start doing it. The first few sentences are hell. I make myself feel better by making sure I save the to-be-edited novel under a different name - just in case I decide I was right all along and the critique was nuts. After about half an hour, I'm back in the world of the novel, I can feel the character again and realise that editing with the help given is actually the best fun in the world.

Tip for the wary though: avoid the parts of the report you feel are wrong, bad or hurtful (if it's not a helpful hurt) - scrub them out if you want to. That way you don't have to read them again, and you can concentrate on the things you want to change and those alone.




Trilby said...

Ooh, may I join your support group?

I've also got a first novel in a box (specially decoupaged for the occasion!) along with an editorial report and some encouraging notes from an agent. It's been there since 2005. Doesn't matter that book 2 is now being published, or that book 3 is well on its way to completion - I fear that book 1 will haunt me forever unless I make some effort to translate the "mental" revisions into real ones.

Congrats on the little walking man, btw! Ooh, things are about to get interesting :)

Emma K-F said...

Best of luck with the box-opening - if you get that done today, then tomorrow's baby step can be 'lifting out the contents'. You can leave 'actually looking at them' until the next day!

Great advice from Anne - it struck me that, with only a couple of notable exceptions, I've never really saved the original version of anything. I'm now thinking that I really should have. I tend to just edit away and hope that if I change my mind, it's within the scope of the 'undo' button to return both my text and my sanity!

Emma x

Mum'sTheWord said...

Thanks very much for the advice and support! I managed to open the box, lift out the contents AND make notes on the first three chapters last night, so I feel about a million times better about Life In General now... as my partner commented when he got home and found me all joyful: 'You really are much happier when you're writing.' He looked relieved.

Anonymous said...

Too late, but I wanted to drop in and say that another option is not to look at the early draft at all. With or without reading the editorial report, you could just write a new novel with whatever has stuck of those characters, plot, events, and so on. Generally speaking time and your mind sieve out the good things and the less good fall away. It doesn't take any longer, and you do end up with something seamless. Not that you necessarily won't with a re-write, but it can be harder than you'd think to marry up old and new, murder your darlings

I had to re-write one of the three strands of A Secret Alchemy over the summer, and that's how I did it. But then of the eight novels I've written, at least three are fundamentally a new take on material I've written before.

Best of luck with it, anyway. The Boy will work it out himself - much easier!

Mum'sTheWord said...

Emma, that's a very interesting idea, thank you. Not too late at all - I need all the rewriting advice I can get.

And you're right about my son - he's been taking 3 or 4 steps a few times a day, no rushing, just a little at a time, and seems highly pleased with his efforts :)

writer girl said...

Best of luck with it all. S

Simon Brooke said...

First, sympathy. I have at least one text where I'm stuck in exactly the position you describe (that is to say, one that I haven't abandoned entirely. Fortunately I have another that's finished and I need to find a publisher for, and a third which is making reasonable progress...

Secondly, all that physical paper is a nuisance. It reifies your text and it also puts you into situations where you don't want to make radical changes to sections because it would mean printing everything out again... If you can work on the screen it's better, in my opinion.

The other thing which paper does is it makes you think about presentation too early, and again, it's a mistake. I allowed someone to persuade me to switch to using a word processor last year, and it was a huge mistake. I started worrying about what the text looked like instead of about the story I was telling.

I've gone back to writing in a text editor, with minimal markup. Then there is nothing but the text to think about, to work on, and I find that's much more productive.

Mum'sTheWord said...

Thanks very much for your thoughts, Simon. I feel as if I need to get physical with this book - spread it out on the floor by chapter, scrawl on it, make huge gestures of crossing out, etc, because I've never 'properly' rewritten before, I've only tinkered (albeit obsessively). So I'm hoping that seeing it all before me will help, just while I make the drastic cuts and figure out where to begin the new roads.

Good luck with your finished book.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'd agree that working with the physical pieces of paper works better, for me at least. You can scrawl to move bits about without doing it and losing track of what you've done ('track changes' doesn't count), trace your train of thought when you flip back to an earlier bit, and change your mind all over again when you do come to type up all the edits in one go. And it's in the typing-up that you get a much better sense of how your revisions have affected the pace and balance. And the page numbers move about as you edit on screen, which is a pain in the neck if you've got any notes. I find it really helps to get away from the computer, too, when I want to see it fresh, so working on hard copy somewhere other than my desk is good.