Said no author ever.
There is an elephant
in the room on my hard drive. It’s the novel I’ve been working on for almost thirty years. We have a love/hate relationship. I believe it’s the book I was born to write, but I haven’t yet been able to get it into publishable shape. I’ve rewritten that novel from scratch one-and-a-half times. I’ve done so many rounds of revision, and even made such substantial improvements that I wrote three blog posts about revising (see Part I, Part II, and Part III) so that I wouldn’t forget my process. I thought I was really close to done, but a couple of my writer friends very gently told me I wasn’t. Rather than commit suicide, I put it aside to work on a less-challenging story, hoping that getting one in print might give me the impetus to finish my magnum opus. (Ha! We’ll see what happens when I get to the revision stage in the new one . . .)
But in the back of my mind is the worry—what to do, what to do? How can I make that manuscript something I’m proud to put my name on?
And so I keep reading what other people say about revising.
In the article “One Thousand Pages” in the May/June 2021 issue of Poets and Writers,* author and writing instructor J.T. Bushnell wrote:
. . . a friend, Ryan Blacketter, sent me the manuscript of what would become his own first novel, Down in the River (Slant, 2014). I knew he had written only short stories until then, so I was impressed at how well built his novel was—how sturdy its foundation, how varied and efficient its architecture, how high its pinnacle. When I told him how much I admired it, he thanked me, then said, “I’ve thrown away a thousand pages, but none of them were wasted.”
At first I thought he meant the number as hyperbole. Kill your darlings and all that. But he meant it literally, and when I understood this, my reaction surprised me. Rather than feeling intimidated by such a gargantuan number, I felt heartened. All I had to do was write a thousand pages? I might not know how to build a novel, I thought, but I knew how to put my butt in a chair and words on a page.
Bushnell goes on to explain how to add depth and breadth to the novel, but that concept—writing great quantity, way more than you’ll ever need for the book—is resonating with me, something I want to try when I go back to The Unicornologist.
In her article 5 Reasons Your Revision Isn’t Working, Janice Hardy says maybe your story isn’t finished yet, or maybe you don’t really know what your novel is about, among other things.
Anne Lyle offers 10 steps to follow for your novel revision, including writing a summary. She also recommends writing a list of bullet points of key elements in the story (the things that excited you about writing the story in the first place) to keep in front of you during the revision.
And finally, I love this idea from Darcy Pattison: literally shrinking your novel down to 30 pages by single spacing it and reducing the font size, not because you’re going to read it in that form, but because you’re going to spread those pages out and mark them up, according to a careful analysis. I can’t wait to do this.
*I’m sorry, this article isn’t available online, or I would have given you the link. Instead, I’ll plug the magazine. I’ve subscribed to Poets & Writers for a few years now, and it’s excellent. It’s introduced me to many writers I hadn’t heard of previously, and it’s a great source of contest information. Many of its features are available online, but I really appreciate the hard copy format.