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Annals of Revision (again) [Nov. 15th, 2011|03:08 pm]
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You might think that someone who's written 20+ books could write a book front to back, all in one piece, with no mistakes, the way my mother (for instance) could sew garments (even design them)  and not have to rip out or add on.    You might be right for some other writer of 20+ books, but not...alas...for me.   Or for most of the writers I know, even the ones who are gifted enough to outline before they write.   At the end of months of first-drafting, what I have is a big shaggy mess of a thing.   Some parts are really good.  Some parts might be good if they were in the right place (they're not), trimmed up a little, given a spit shine on the now dull surface.   Other parts...well, there are days when the writing sags, along with energy, and what comes out is...well again...dull, stale, flat and unprofitable. 

If I could write the story perfectly the first time, just churn or reel it out, I surely would.  But I can't.  So instead, I spend a month or several in a state familiar to many writers, alternately wondering why I ever thought this was a good idea, thinking the story can't be salvaged, and then rounding up the stray bits and getting them in order, like a sheepdog with a flock to move somewhere...and running the story through all the gates, fast, to be sure it works.  In the end it always does.  In the end I'm always eating too much chocolate, failing to get out of pajamas until after noon,  staying up way beyond midnight, and then (once it's sent off) discovering some embarrassing problem still left in it. 

Right now I'm in mid-revision mode.  The Chainsaw of Correction has been applied to the deadwood: the dull, the slow, the fascinating-to-me-but-no-one-else artistically lacy (but dead) limbs.  99% of what's left is plotworthy and much of it has been trimmed up and polished. But not all.   I've spent the morning messing about a scene that won't go away and yet doesn't work right.   I can't see why.  I went away from it for a couple of hours and finished processing the lamb stock, then started a curry.  I still can't see why the scene is sitting there, a large lump of indigestible sentences, and won't either be taken out or shake itself into a flowing scene with adequate tension.    Even I can see it's not 24k gold studded with rubies...so it's not a "darling" in the sense of "kill your darlings."   It's a lump.  I've looked at it front to back, and back to front, and starting in the middle looking both ways for its nugget of plotworthiness that saves it from the CofC, and it feels like there's a nugget in there...but I can't locate it.   It's been bugging me for days, as I worked on other things--I'd come back, read it again, scowl again, and go work on something easier.   Many other chapters have benefited from my inability to get this scene to budge.  But now they're as far along as they can be until I solve this one.  Whatever I do here will have effects on what comes after; I can't do the top level revisions on following chapters without knowing where this one is structurally. 

Tinkering isn't getting the job done.   Moving sentences around, starting the conversations differently, reversing sentence or paragraph order...no.  Been there, done that (and other tricks) and there it sits, like a sodden blob of cold oatmeal.   Unsalted, unsweetened....does it mean I've lost it?   The writing ability's fled?   Inspiration evaporated?  Talent sucked down the rathole?   I don't know.  I look at the scene.  The scene doesn't even look back.  I've interrogated the characters...they're not interested in my problems. 

And of course this writing here is procrastination.   I should be working on it, but here I am writing a post in LJ instead.  And yet, writing about how impossible it is, there's a tiny--very tiny--twitch in the writing brain.  As I describe it, I begin to see metaphorically what's wrong.  "Lump" and "indigestible" and "unsalted and unsweetened."  Can I figure out what that means in terms of the people interacting in that scene, the emotional setting and development of that scene?   Are they, like a lump of cold oatmeal without salt or honey, the same all the way through and at the end as at the beginning?  Are they all one mood, one tone, throughout?   It is...when I think about it that way...a fairly quiet scene, with two people who know each other well discussing something fairly abstract that may happen somewhere else in terms of what did happen in another somewhere else.  Sitting down.  Just talking.   Characters familiar to readers of these books, so I can't claim any great revelation of character.  Not angry, not at odds, not excited, not sad....just sitting there talking calmly.  For rather a long time, in fact.  No salt.  No honey.  No variation in flavor....well.   There we are, then.   The single nugget of plotworthiness, now I think about it, is diffused one or two words at a time across the whole conversation.  Five tiny grains of salt in the whole large lump, barely perceptible to the tastebuds.  If I couldn't find it, neither would most readers. 

Sometimes procrastination is a useful tool in revision.   And now, back to the scene.  A and B, you have one thing to pass between you, and that's it.   And you have to realize its importance, react to it, shift a little...No.   I'll insist they shift a lot...when I think of the previous scene, in a different POV in a different place, this one needs to start off with enough punch to pull readers away from the one before.  DUH.  How could I forget that?  Changes of viewpoint are major transitions and readers need to be firmly attached to the new one right from the first words.   The writer brain rolls over and sits up.   Pulls on jeans and a shirt (never mind what the writer brain's body is wearing) and dials up the word generator.  

Bye, now.


[User Picture]From: jcbemis
2011-11-15 09:58 pm (UTC)
thanks for discussing the nuts and bolts of the craft again!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-11-16 12:12 am (UTC)
In between this one (when I turn it in) and the next, I have some writing posts that are nagging at me. We'll see. Meanwhile, if you missed some of the earlier posts, I've got some of them up at my website: http://www.elizabethmoon.com/essays.html

Those are mix of handouts from classes I've taught, LJ posts, and posts elsewhere.
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From: (Anonymous)
2011-11-15 10:35 pm (UTC)

On being able to write easily.

Very few writers can just sit down and have a book flow out of the pen or typewriter. I have read that Rex Stout did it and Issac Azimov could do it.

But if it takes time and effort, it is certainly worth it. We do appreciate that your works do not spring forth ready for publication.
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[User Picture]From: foxfyre
2011-11-15 11:44 pm (UTC)
This is going to sounds vaguely sadistic, but…thanks for sharing the difficult parts about writing. I've spent a lot of time in rough draft land lately, and it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who wonders if the whole thing is even salvageable during that phase. Also sort of sad knowing that feeling doesn't go away even with success, but hey, whatever. I can cope.

And now I want oatmeal. Ah, the power of suggestion! ;)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-11-16 12:08 am (UTC)
Not sadistic at all. And if you're in rough-draft-land, you need to know you're not wandering that inhospitable wilderness alone. (Recent mention on a writer listserv by one well-known and highly praised writer that he wondered if anyone else ever despaired of the book in progress and thought it was crap...was followed by torrent of "Me, too" posts, some with considerable elaboration.) Folk wisdom in the writing community is that the feeling is necessary to keep writing well...when you don't think, at some point in the process, that the book is on the edge of awful, horrible, no good, very bad...you're in trouble.

Still unpleasant, though.
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From: (Anonymous)
2011-11-18 05:18 am (UTC)
She made you want oatmeal? How about the hot ham (and toast soaking up its juices) in the Legacy of Gird that I read about while I was on a ferry from Prince of Wales in Alaska. It was described so well it made me unable to resist going to the galley and ordering said hot ham and toast. I made hot ham and toast two more times that week... it's insane. :) And, btw, thank you EM, it was dee-lish!
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From: ozdragonlady
2011-11-15 11:55 pm (UTC)


Someone whose written 20+ books should know by now that they never get written straight through in a polished first draft :)

You are not writing to a formula ... come to think of it even my true to form business plans in requests to proceed start out a untidy pile that gets herded into submission with due attention to positioning vital sentences for maximum impact:)

In the end it always does. In the end I'm always eating too much chocolate, failing to get out of pajamas until after noon, staying up way beyond midnight, and then (once it's sent off) discovering some embarrassing problem still left in it.
Sounds like every grad student Ive ever known .... theses are a bugger for getting right. Consider this - every book you write is the equivalent of a PhD thesis.

Kick those lumps into submission! February cant come soon enough (for me):D
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2011-11-16 12:04 am (UTC)

Re: *smile*

I know, but I live in hope. SOMEday a book will simply fall out of my head and appear, ta-DAH!, in all its shining glory.

Huh...I think very few PhD theses are as long as my books. But I could be wrong.

New scene is rollicking along nicely.

Suppertime here. Lamb stewish thing.
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From: ozdragonlady
2011-11-16 01:44 pm (UTC)

Re: *smile*

Aus humanities PhDs = 100,000. Science and engineering ones are shorter, medicine however long it takes.
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[User Picture]From: friar_bacon
2011-11-16 02:27 pm (UTC)


Thank-you for writing. I love your work. I know some days it isn't easy (as you have mentioned here), but I always enjoy the final result. Thank-you.
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