Sunday, March 9, 2014

Figuring It Out

I wrote five novels before I figured out how to revise. I finished my first novel in 2006, then I wrote another novel over the next few years, then picture books, then poetry collections.  In 2010, I sat down the first of November, and started a novel that I finished by the end of November--50,000 words in thirty days.  

Then I wrote another novel, then a memoir, then another novel, then another memoir, a poetic biography, a poetic autobiography.  I wrote and wrote. Though I was able to revise the shorter works--poems, picture books, even poem collections--I wasn't able to revise a full-length novel.  

Every year since 2010, I've read about revision for two months, from December through the first of February. Every year, I've sat down on the first day of February to revise one of the many novels gathering dust on my hard drive. I've struggled, I've complained, and each time, I gave up. Another novel unrevised.  

Every June, I started another book, the old one unrevised, unpublishable.  I worked on poems, wrote a picture book or two, did research and planned for the next November novel.  

Every year I've told my friends, "This is the year I figure it out.  This is the year I'll find the process that works for me." My optimism was always well-founded.  After all, each year's novel has gotten easier to write.  Once I figured out the method that worked for me, writing a novel has become an almost simple thing.  Difficult, but simple.  

And every year, I've shown up at the first of June--frustrated, dejected, a failure.  

But, here's the thing, I kept writing.  June to Novemeber--study the craft, read avidly, create characters, research setting, write a rough outline, read some more, read new books on craft, write poems and picture books, read some more.  Write everyday, read everyday, fanny in chair, do the work.  You get the picture.  

And in November, 2,000 words a day, nearly every day.  Sometimes 8,000 words a day. Giving the chracters I've lived with for most of the year a month to come alive, to tell their stories.  Often, I'll finish my 50,000 words in November but have huge chunks missing in my novel.  I write those huge chunks in December. I start to read about revising.  Taking notes, making plans, developing spreadsheets, buying index cards, buying post-it notes.  

Then 1 February comes.  I read my draft.  It's good but needs work. I print it out.  I make index cards, I look at my revision notes. By mid-February, I'm avoiding my desk.  No poems, no stories, no research, nothing.  I'm stuck.  

I moan about for a few weeks. Then I whack myself and start to read again. I start to write again.

Lather, rinse, repeat.  

But this year is different.  Everything I've read, heard, and learned has finally borne fruit. I am just now finishing with my first complete revision of a novel.  I'm sending it to my first reader on Sunday.

My process hasn't been linear.  It hasn't been easy. But just as I discovered what worked for me as I drafted, I'm discovering what works for me in revision.

Lesson: keep working at it.  Eventually, you'll figure it out.  If you don't keep doing the work, you'll never figure it out.  This wisdom won't come to you in sleep.  It develops through the work, the 99% perspiration. 

Over the next few weeks, I'll write about some of the techniques I've used to revise.  Next week--7 point font size as a first step. 

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