Plotting Horse

Rewriting again and again and again
July 10, 2009, 16:56
Filed under: Rewriting | Tags: , , , ,

This is how it is. You think you’re done. You think you’ve done all that you can do. You know there are rough-spots and you do want the best story possible, but you have already been pushed to your furthest limit.  You want to say “I’m DONE!! YAY!” Have a party, send out query letters, try to get published. Start thinking about the next story.

I’ve been working on this novel for 36 months!! Out of these, 10 have been full-time and that’s when the novel has been really written.

I seriously, honestly cannot count how many times I’ve been asked by friends and family when I’m going to have it published. And do I have a publisher yet? It gets a little tough pretending to be helpful in explaining how the publishing industry works (and why I’m not a part of it yet) when I’m seething inside and really want to tell them that it’s none of their business and shut up and I never want to talk to you ever again. Seething, yes ,with anger, yes. But time and again that anger turns into anxiety. It makes me feel like I have worms crawling in my stomach and those little buggers just all want to be a part of a publishing body, and they all think I’m going to fail.

What’s really going on?

I had a talk with one of my beta-readers last night. She had great feedback for me. She sounded exactly like this whispering voice I have in my head that keeps letting me about the worst possible faults in the novel. I liked to think of them as suspicions before. Suspicions that probably only my hyper-critical self could see.

Well, either she looked right into my brain, or my suspicions were correct. I should be happy. Can you feel it? Yeah, I’m not. I have some major problems. I can’t even guess how long of a process it’ll be to fix them.

Problem 1: Point Of View. I have a totally messed up bag of POVs. I don’t know how I managed to write the story like this, but now I have to fix it. I’ve got a first person narrator. She’s telling the story, but I’ve also got chapters that she’s not in that are told in third person omniscient. Like she knows the thoughts of all these other people. I sort of thought that it would work – that it could be a hint that she’s not really to be trusted – she’s making these thoughts up. But readers don’t look at writing quite like that. If a character is thinking something, they think that the character is thinking that thing. Also, if readers figure out that the narrator is lying, they stop trusting her entirely – the whole story could just be a crazy lie! Go figure!

It’s a mess. I’m pretty sure I know what to do though. I need to get out of the other characters’ heads. Pare down thoughts and qualify them through the narrator – so she would say: I’m sure Paul thought that…

Issue: This could distance the reader significantly from the other characters.

Advantages: It would become clear that the narrator is inferring these thoughts – and I could introduce obvious contradictions in actions/dialogue and thoughts. This would strengthen my premise.

Problem 2 (which is all that I can bite off to fit in between my jaws right now): One of the major scenes isn’t believable. The reaction of the protagonist isn’t believable – what she does is not something that she would do. I tried really hard to make her do it, you see. Damn! Ugh! I’m sorry that I’m not going to tell you exactly what the scene is about, but it’s a pivotal scene, and I’m hoping you might get to read a variance one day. I have no idea of how to solve this problem.

Anyway, here is a little tiny excerpt from about the middle of the book.

Tuesday midnight.

When Aster snuck out there was a chill in the air. She locked the backdoor behind her, jabbing the key at the door searching for the keyhole in the dark. It was a full moon, already past midnight a white moon in a haze. She stared at it a moment, its spooky shine reminding her of an underwater pool light. It brought the craziness out, she knew, and she stared at it harder to convince herself that this was impossible; a moment in a celestial cycle – nothing whatever to do with human lives on earth. She felt on her forehead the dew descending and settling almost like a misty rain, and her body shook, bringing a gasp to her lips. She noticed the outline of the tops of the trees, the circle of the backyard projected skyward, darkness all around her, but up to the moon.
The grass blades shone with wet slickness as she huddled along the house and around the corner; she heard a car engine idling, looked up and saw a yellow pool of street light cast on the pavement and a car with its headlights out parked just outside the lit circle on the opposite side. There were white snakes of exhaust dancing from the tailpipe, and the outline of a man in profile in the driver’s seat.

Sprint Planning
May 5, 2009, 15:15
Filed under: Rewriting

There is a lot of writing help to be got online and I have also read a few ‘how to write ‘ or ‘how to be a writer’ type books. However, I have never come across any truly useable advice about rewriting. And I mean: managing the rewrite. Not, like: don’t put a comma there… (I like my grammar, but have on several occasions been admonished for it. Apparently it drives some people crazy…) The best rewriting advice I have heard is: Writing is rewriting. Hemingway.

But actually, this is not really true for me. My best writing comes on the first try. Just not all the time. Most of the time the first try is HIDEOUS and I have to go back and rewrite – but, it is then a complete rewrite, thereby again, being the first ‘write’… Hmm… Of course Hemingway could have meant the exact same thing I’m trying to get at, but considering his short, clipped sentence structures I would actually like to think that maybe he really meant editing. Like moving words and sentences around, cutting a lot of flab and getting to the essentials. Not all new words.

I don’t write like Hemingway! Surprised? Yeah, I know! Maybe it worked for him, but if I tried to just clean up my poor first tries, they would not be greatly improved. Maybe passable, depending on who is looking.

He of course, also rewrote from the ground sometimes, I’m sure.

What I’ve come up with that I need in order to rewrite is:

  • to keep my creativity up, staying connected to the material
  • To view my old writing like somebody else wrote it: complete objectivity!
  • A plan

The first two come and go, but I’ve found that having a plan is a wonderful thing that stays with me.

I use sprint planning. My husband showed me how, they use it where he works. I break the project down into managable chunks. For me that’s about a week, two tops. I have just finished my first plan today; it was supposed to take 11 days, but ended up taking 19. That is actually almost on target, because after you do your time estimates, you’re supposed to multiply them by 1,5. You take the first chunk you need/want to do, then break that down into tasks. You can get real specific if you want. Write a post-it with each task, stick it on something where it can be allowed to stay until you’re done. Take a piece of paper and write Burnpile on top, tape this up somewhere close to the post-its. Then each day you take the post-its you want to finish that day (according to your time estimates!) and keep them with you by the computer, only getting up to take each one successively to the burnpile (yeah, right, nevermind the coffee breaks, bathroom breaks, lunch breaks. Atleast you don’t have to leave the computer for your internet breaks). Then you are done one day, like I am today, and feel a great sense of accomplishment and willingness to make a new sprint plan.

This simple method has helped me a lot. Before it, I often felt like I was floundering. When I was writing the first draft and even the second (because there was so much rewriting to be done) I had a goal of writing 1000 words per day. This worked for me like a charm, but cannot be applied to the stage of the process I am in now. So I am happy to have found sprint planning!

I’m now going to go burn the burnpile! Or atleast forcefully throw it down the garbage shoot!