Struggling to revise

Revision is tough. I’ve done very little over the last week, couldn’t write at all for four days. Felt bad. Tried to be positive. Did not work.

I’d decided to aim for a target of 10,500 words to be revised every week and I’m not making that target. My aim was to complete the second draft in eight weeks but it’s not working out and I’m feeling a bit, more than a bit, de-motivated this weekend. I’m supposed to be at 31,000 by now and have only 25,000 worked on.

It’s a catch between – do I need a break or is the section I’m working on boring me senseless?

I decided that the idea was still sound and I needed a break. So I got four days and three walks in. Did loads of reading, a painting and free-writing. And telly and cooking and housework and general sorting out of things that should have been done if I wasn’t writing.

What did I get done since my break? Well, six pages of notes later and I suppose I did get two chapters written more the way I wanted them to be, new scenes added to reinforce one of the sub-plots and loads deleted and re-written. Revision is so gut-wrenchingly ruthless; cutting good writing because it doesn’t do its job. But when a chapter is revised and pulls the plot along properly, it really sings!

I’m not making my target but at least the chapters feel better written. I’ll tackle the next one tomorrow. Make a dent in it. Literally.

Scene intentions: or what I should have written in the first place.

Twenty thousand words into a second draft and I feel myself faltering. I look at the next chapter and think – what is the point of it? Honestly, what is the point, what is the intention of this scene, this chapter, what is supposed to be happening?

Scene and chapter intentions are critical. When I was attempting to do the second draft of my first novel I didn’t use them properly and I’ve had to put that novel aside because it’s not working. For the second novel, I’m using the information given in the book ‘Nail your novel: why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix and finish with confidence’ by Roz Morris, to produce a sheet with a timeline, scene and chapter intentions.

Note: This book was recommended in another publication called ‘The new author’ by Ruby Barnes who was a writer who’d completed the same course I did in creative writing, a year or more before me.

Every time I get stuck trying to figure out what I need to revise in the next chapter, I write out a mini-plan for it, remembering that the chapter will have a natural beginning (draw the reader in), middle section and end (leave them wanting more) and I think of the flow of the scenes within that chapter. I write down exactly what the scene is for. For example:

Scene intention for Chapter 6 Scene 2: B interrogated by C and David, B finds out about E.

I also jot down reminders of what exactly needs to be covered in that interrogation e.g. C asks B why didn’t he say anything? David takes control, shows video of E.

(I use the first letter of each main character’s name, faster than writing in full)

Revising the second novel is working better than I thought it would. Even though I wrote the scene and chapter intentions for the whole novel after the first draft (remember first drafts can’t be held up, write them without the inner critic), as I approach each chapter I find that I may revise those intentions or the intended purpose of the scenes to make the chapter work better – still keeping in mind the build-up of the overall plot and subplots.

The other book which I use for editing is ‘Self-editing for fiction writers’ by Renni Browne and Dave King. I’ve read it three times over the last year. I need that information firmly embedded in my brain.

So on we go…happy editing.

Write. Learn. Repeat.

I was on the phone recently with a new writer who was stuck at 3,500 words of their novel and was hesitating to write further because they felt that they didn’t know if they could.

It reminded me of how I used to be at seven years ago, at six years ago, and then I didn’t write for about three years, still doubted myself.

Three years ago I did a weekend course on starting a novel and started to write what I called my first novel. I think of it as writing an idea now. Still doubted I could write though.

Then I joined a writing group. Some of us wanted to think that we would be published writers and some of us were there for the fun of writing. The group blossomed into a joy of writing group.

Then two years ago, I got another idea and merged it with the first and what is officially my first novel began. Eight weeks into the New Year, 2011, I was writing the full first draft of my first novel. It took me six weeks to write it working off chapter and scene ideas I had drafted beforehand.

I wanted to know more because I couldn’t begin to figure out how to move the novel towards publication.

In September 2011 I started the most amazing course on Creative Writing for Publication. The tutors were excellent and pulled from our rough drafts incredible final pieces for our homework submissions through their feedback on editing and critique at workshops in class.

By May 2012 the course was over and I took a two month break. With the course behind me, I began work on the second draft of the novel. Over the previous year, I’d tinkered with many ideas and after doing the course I realised how bad my first draft was but still the idea was there, the characters were there and I knew this novel was the start of possibly another one or two books. (I’ve decided that there’s room for one more, but it’s not a trilogy. What I mean is I still have loads of things I want to throw at my characters. Poor sods!)

So I started a second draft of this first novel. I also began putting the ideas together for the second novel. After all, the two followed each other so it was important to make sure there were no loop holes between them.

After two months I was floundering in ideas and problems with the plot. I struggled on for another two weeks and then stopped.

National Novel Writing Month 2012 was on the horizon. I’d noted it in my diary after meeting someone I met at an art exhibition at the start of the summer told me about it. I thought it would be a fabulous opportunity to start writing scenes in the second novel. I planned out the story structure and put together rough ideas for scenes for the major and minor plots. I was set.

Five days into November and 7000 words down, I was seriously stuck and stressed senseless. I couldn’t bear to spend another day worrying about these characters. I needed a break from them.

Over the last month or two I’d been fantasising about another idea. I knew the characters; I knew roughly what their backgrounds were and what was going to happen to them. I even knew how it would all end.

On one page I jotted down a few chapters worth of notes and began to write. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to know what was going to happen to my characters. Before I knew it, I was hooked on the idea and the plot poured out of me. (Except come Thursday and Friday I would get some lag, writers block, stuck.) My motivation now was that I wanted to know what was going to happen next, exactly as if I was reading a book for the first time, except I only knew as fast as I could write it.

This is what I told the beginning writer and I know I’ve read this somewhere before but probably didn’t believe it. Until now…

‘Write. Learn. Repeat.’

P.S. I would also add ‘Read loads’ to that list. And repeat.

In its own time

Writer’s block struck when I least expected. Just when I thought I was on a roll with the second draft I got flu and while nursing a sore head, throat etc… the muse left me for about two weeks. I eventually put myself back into the chair and opened the last draft I’d saved. Still I couldn’t write .

One day, I picked up a copy of ‘bird by bird’ by Anne Lamott and read the title of one chapter; ‘Short Assignments’ and that is what it has been since. I started with half a page of revision. Then another bit. Little by little, I pulled myself back into the swing of writing again. (Why didn’t I pick that book up sooner?)

It comes back to something that I noticed about writing.

It’s going to move as fast or slow as it wants to.

What I mean is during the times when it is slow there is usually a reason. In my case, the chapter I was revising needed to be completely changed.  I had to delete about 2500 words and rewrite whole new scenes. The delay? I was fighting the changes inside me. So I got stuck. When I eventually allowed myself to delete what wasn’t working, it began to flow and my writing became unstuck. Now I know that the time it took to get the chapter going in the right direction was worth it. It works much better now. But I still, deep inside me, hate that it took so long.

On a positive note, I’m going to use National Novel Writing Month (November) aka NaNoWriMo as my deadline to wrap up the second draft of this novel and start the next one. But even then, for all my planning, I need to keep remembering that this writing will sometimes happen in its own time.