Monday Journal: Revision rumblings

I talk a lot about how much I enjoy the novel revision process. And I really do. I love building the story up and out and working in the detail, weaving the strands together, making them sing. As with nailing a well-tuned harmony, there’s a thrill in getting it right.

But… sometimes it can be mind-bending. Like when your ideas multiply (up and out and…) and suddenly the first part of the novel is about twice as long as you intended.

And… like when you’ve worked that opening section so it’s singing (mostly), but all those tweaks and improvements mean cascading changes to everything that comes next.

This is, of course, where I’m at now. I set out to revise the first draft of this novel I’ve been working on, confident it was in reasonable shape (although there was a lot I wanted to do with it). And so I made a few notes and set about sharpening and fixing and editing the opening section. I wrote a lot of new scenes. Deleted a lot too. Layered in many of the things missing from the first draft. Made it better.

The major turning point at the end of the section remained the same… oh, wait. Not quite. There was one key difference. But even that doesn’t affect what comes next in any large way. Nothing in and of itself was a major change in terms of events unfolding. And yet, somehow everything is different.

The first section was the easy part.

Now I’m contemplating the next section — the middle section. Even though I’ve laid a first draft down, there is still so much to explore and discover (and change), it’s hard to know where to start. Hang the ‘kid in a lolly shop’ (that’s candy store for the uninitiated). It’s ‘Ellen hits London’ for the first time. (Only it’s not, er, London, it’s this cool city I’ve made up…)

One of the hardest things for me is judging what is good enough to stay and what gets revised/revamped/re-envisaged. Surely everything can be improved? I invariably can think of a new and better way of doing everything…

And then there’s the length problem. There’s so much I want to add into this middle section, does this mean I should cut my losses now and split what was meant to be one book into two? It’s a conundrum. (For the moment, I’m not taking that option. I’ll just have to rein it in somehow.)

But yay me for getting to the end of the first section! There are few minor tweaks to go back and make and then it’s onwards with the next bit. Which is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. And hopefully better.

PS – This was supposed to be a Sunday Journal post, but turns out I couldn’t watch half a season of Veronica Mars and write at the same time, so… Here we are.

11 comments

  1. I know exactly what you mean. Even though I’m only half way through my first draft, already I can see it morphing a lot from what I thought the story would be. I can only imagine it’s going to be even more different if I ever got onto the 2nd draft.

    Does remind me of something I heard recently about a writer who would write his first draft them put it into a drawer without looking at it and begin the 2nd draft. Not sure I could ever go that, but I do see the advantages of treating each new draft as a new story and not being tied down by what you’ve planned or written previously.

    ps Hear hear for Veronica Mars! I currently have Buffy sucking away the hours of my life…

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    1. It’s OK when it happens in the first draft – that means the story is starting to tell itself and the characters are acting for themselves a little bit. That’s GOOD. But I was really hoping this would be a revision and not a re-write.

      Yes, you hear of many writers who put the first draft away and rewrite without reference to it. I can see the merit in that, because sometimes trying to stick with the original when the story wants to go somewhere else can be limiting. But for me there’s too much time invested to simply put the first draft away like that.

      Glad to hear from another Veronica Mars and Buffy fan!

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  2. I totally understand how revision can be a mind-bending experience. When I finished the first draft of my novel, which has been on the back-burner for a while, I quickly discovered I just didn’t know what to do with it. Hopefully as we get more experience, it gets a little easier.

    Congratulations on your progress. Sounds like you’re doing great 🙂

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      1. It’s very daunting…but I know you can do it. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to read more theory books, which is something I’ve been meaning to do more of myself. You never know when you might find a cool new technique that makes sense to incorporate into our own personal way of doing things.

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  3. Oh, I so relate to this, Ellen! “I invariably can think of a new and better way of doing everything…” Yes. That is where I am right now as I revise. When to say when? And there’s that point where I wonder if I’m just making it different, not better! Thanks for sharing your process and congrats on finishing your first section!

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