Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Clarity of Distance

I'm taking a break between two temp assignments to work on my novel. I started this process back in Baltimore, but didn't get very far before retreating into the warm safety of short storydom. The answer to why I gave up then was simple: when I have a permanent full-time day job, I have less time to write. I'm also someone who absolutely needs to feel some sense of accomplishment at the end of a writing session. Revising a novel doesn't give me the same completion high that writing or even revising a short story does for several reasons. For one thing, I don't know if I'll be able to sell it, whereas I have faith that most of my short stories will eventually be placed and read by readers (okay, most of my readers are probably other writers, but still). So time spent working on a novel could be wasted time. I also get very, very bored writing about the same characters and their world for months on end. You all know (or maybe you are) writers who sketch out detailed worlds for their characters to inhabit and type reams of background material before they even really set pen to paper. I am the exact opposite of this person. Therefore I choose to spend my limited writing time on short stories, the form that gives me both the most immediate satisfaction and the greatest chance of publication.

But now, baby, I have time. Two weeks of it, in fact (well, one is already over). So it's back to Ye Olde Novel. I don't think I was prepared for the amount of work this would be! And how tedious it is! For background: I originally wrote this novel in 2006, almost a decade ago. I did revise it, but not very well. It got a few complimentary rejections that said in the nicest possible terms that "your plot is original, but your writing sucks."

And it's true! It does suck! Some people say that the best thing to do with your writing is to put it in a drawer for six months before even thinking about revision. Well, I've had this thing in an effective drawer for something like six years and all I can say is... they're right. Even though I remember writing it, and recall most of the plot, it doesn't feel like something I personally wrote. Which means I have no compunctions about ripping the thing to shreds. I've already blasted my way through a third of the thing, rewriting some sections completely but mostly just leveling up the writing. As I said on Twitter, it's like I'm writing a completely new novel using the old one as a blueprint.

As for my method of rewriting/editing, it's line by friggin' line, all the way. One screen with the original novel in Scrivener*, where I make edits, and a Word screen where I paste my edited words and make any changes that only reveal themselves post-transfer. When I finish, I will scan over the "completed" manuscript before sending it to readers. And then I'll have to make even more edits! It never ends.

I do worry that my fierce cutting will damage the novel's marketability. How could I not be worried about that? The original draft was around 72k long, but I'm cutting out much more than I'm adding and I doubt the final draft will come in at much more than 65k words, which for non-YA science fiction published in 201X is super short. Some books can deal with padding or multiple subplots, but this one really can't. It's just a lean little slip of a self-contained book. I guess I'll worry about that problem when I get to the "finding an agent/publisher" phase of the game.

When/if I write a second novel that counts, I probably won't sit on it for six years again. But there's a hell of a case for waiting six months.

*I do find it kind of hilarious that I bought this not-cheap program and use it essentially as another Word screen. As a pure "pantser," I basically don't use any of the special features that you're supposed to use Scrivener for. But whatever works, right?


  1. I'm a short story writer by inclination. And I've dabbled with novel length before.

    But now, I'm working the heck out of my current novel. I'm enjoying it. I've pushed through the first draft barrier and stuff is happening. My characters are taking a life of their own. I've had to murder my darlings.

    It's all very interesting. I'm finding it fun to push beyond my natural length.

    Why not?

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