The Scary Journey of Novel Revision

After reading about eight books on how to revise/edit a novel, I finally found one that makes sense. It’s called The 90-Day Rewrite: The Process of Revision by Alan Watt. I am heartened by statements such as:

  • My goal is to help you develop a process that makes your work as compelling and dynamic as possible.
  • We never want to force our story into our idea of how it should be structured.
  • This does not mean that the story necessarily needs to be re-plotted. It means that we are going to understand why we wrote what we wrote by becoming aware of what our subconscious did quite naturally.

I am also encouraged by his definitions of “dilemma” and “theme.” They make sense to me. He writes about transformation as the main goal of story, and I agree. Alan Watt’s revision process seems to parallel the NaNoWriMo process of “getting the words down” and my process of writing by the seat of my pants.

Other books on novel revision were too dry and rigid. I had trouble finding my way in them. Grammar books haven’t been helpful. What I need is novel and plot development. Then language and then grammar. First, I have to figure out what the heck happens and how I’m going to get that across before I look at paragraphs and sentences.

So, I’ve started reading through The 90-Day Rewrite, sorting out the dilemma and theme in my head using my first novel draft (Cosmic Control: Bronwen’s First Age). It’s a very complex story with alien worlds, time travel, entirely created cultures and religions, and complex characters. I doubt that will be the first novel I revise using Alan Watt’s process. I’m inclined to choose a less complex book to begin with, perhaps The Unicorn Rescue (which is in serious need of  a better title). However, I feel like I can actually accomplish it now.

I did self-edit (with no help or reference) Uncle Tauber’s Trunk and published it because I wanted to bring a novel draft to completion. It is far from perfect but it is done, readable, and a complete story. Perhaps one day I will go back and revise it properly.

The Annual Novel Miracle

2014 NaNoWriMo novel draft working title

2014 NaNoWriMo novel draft working title

Well, I guess I should say something about this year’s novel draft. I did win (wrote at least 50,000 words) National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I did not like the novel as I was writing. Yet, now it haunts me. I find myself wanting to go back and visit a surprising and anomalous story. Usually, I want to run away for a month or two or three and then go back to a draft once I have a bit of perspective. This year, I do not appreciate perspective.

I took a quick look at last year’s novel draft, which was totally awesome because I was ahead nearly every day and “won” before Thanksgiving. Then I continued writing into December and wrote around 70,000 words before I took a break (which I am still on). I stop before the winter holidays because there is so much confusion around. The holidays mess up the atmosphere and the general energy. People get crazy. (But that’s another story.) This year I was quite happy to stop at 50,169 before Thanksgiving.

Every year is different, just like pregnancies. Each year I marvel at how different and similar the process is each time I write a novel draft. In a way, I’m still dazed from my first year of “winning.” Because that year I finally wrote down a story that had been brewing in my head for years. It still feels wonderful to not have a cast of characters and an evolving plot in my head.

What I most like about NaNoWriMo is the annual miracle of making a story from nothing. Each October I avoid anything having to do with writing. If I have little snippets in my head, I ignore them. If tiny plots emerge, I let them go. I blank my writing mind as much as possible. With the exception of one year, I begin each November with absolutely no idea what I will write and then, 50,000 words later, I have a novel draft with a fully formed story complete with characters and plot.

The non-writing is the only commonality to each year’s draft. One year I tried a bit of planning because some characters would not leave me alone. I made summaries for them and names. Once I put them in the draft they ran amok, morphing and taking the story with them. So, since then, I don’t do any of that.

My process stays the same. I am a “pantser” (writing by the seat of my pants). Planning doesn’t work for me. I am also a “swooper”, as defined by Kurt Vonnegut. I swoop through the entire manuscript over and over until it’s done. (He also defined “pounders” who make each sentence perfect—pounding or forging it—before moving on.)

All that’s left now is the swooping.