Wednesday Writing Update: The Pep-Talk to Myself

The thing about writing a book is that it takes a lot of time—especially for me. I first really put my nose to the grindstone on this book in June or July of 2010. It’s now 15 months later, and I’m struggling through a major rewrite. I think part of what’s discouraging me is that I’m doing what may be the one thing you’re really not supposed to do: compare yourself to other writers.

So this is where I attempt to give myself a pep talk. Here goes:

A lot of the remarkably short time periods I saw were for first drafts. My first draft took about 11 months. Overall, that’s not too horrendous. I know that authors who are under contract can only have four to six months to write a complete first draft, and that scares me. My hope, however, is that by the time I’m in a position to have to do that, I’ll have learned enough about writing to be able to do that. I’m guessing part of that is skill, part is confidence, and part is just good-old-fashioned butt-in-chair and hands-at-keyboard.

Okay, it’s mostly butt-in-chair and hands-at-keyboard.

Anyway, right now I’m rewriting. There’s a lot of stuff I’m keeping from my first and second drafts, but I also threw out a lot and am adding a lot and a lot of stuff is getting moved around. This is not just line editing. That’s going to take some time, especially since I also need to do a bit of research on some things. I think, however, that all this repotting—most of that strikes me as being repotting—has actually taught me a lot about plot, which brings me to my next point….

I’ve learned a lot in the process of writing this book, and I’m probably going to learn even more as I work on the rewrite. I’m sure I’ll be learning things about writing as well as about what I’m writing about—and those things will eventually help me write faster and better the first time around.

Malcolm Gladwell has said that you have to put in 10,000 hours to become really good at something. I’m not sure if he came up with it or someone else did, and I don’t think anyone has objectively tested that number… but there’s a certain amount of sense to it.

I guess there’s nothing to do but keep going.

On Story and Style

Ever do a whole lot of hole punching and realize that your work area is covered in little circles of paper? That’s what I sometimes expect to see when I’m revising, except that my environment would be littered with words instead of organizational confetti.

A while back Matt, another writer friend,* posted his thoughts about the importance of story vs. style.** I agree with many of his points—that what often keeps a reader going is the desire to know what happens next (actually one of Mr. Gaiman’s points), and that after the words have faded, the story still remains in the reader’s mind.

I agree with him that story is vitally important, but I think I place greater weight on the importance of style than he does. I love opening a book, reading the first page, and knowing right from there that I’m in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing. There’s something magical and heady in that moment.

I’m not sure if I have a style—a consistent one, I mean. It’s hard to take stock of that when you’re still fussing over the details. The revisions I’m doing—the paring away of words—seems to be about revealing the true skeleton of my book. What the flesh will look like… Well, I’m just not sure. Is it that I’ve left only enough on to cover the bones? Am I simply ridding it of bloat? Will I add more later? I have no idea.

But I do like the idea of story as skeleton—the part of a body that remains after time has stripped away the flesh.

*I’m starting to realize I have a lot of friends who are writers.
**What I refer to here as style, he calls prose. I suspect some other people might also refer to it as voice.

The Incredible Shrinking Manuscript

I’m up to revising chapters 3 and 4, and by that I mostly mean cutting, although I did add a new scene to chapter 3 (after removing one). A friend called it The Incredible Shrinking Manuscript. While I’m not sure that it’s incredible, it’s definitely shrinking. I’m trying hard not to worry about that, since the shrinking does mean that the prose is probably getting tighter.

Part of the revision has involved writing some scene types I haven’t tackled before. My test audience for those scenes seems to like them, though.