What I'm writing
I'm currently in the fourth draft of my novel, Wheatyard. Until recently, the latest revisions have gone well - the existing narrative has been significantly tightened up, while several new sections have been added that provide a clearer view of the narrator. (Thus correcting one of the biggest flaws of the earlier drafts - the focus was too much on the protagonist, Wheatyard, while the narrator was too thinly drawn.)
I've now fully revised five of the six chapters, but have been intentionally writing around (that is, avoiding) the fifth chapter. That one is the longest and thorniest chapter in the book, when Wheatyard finally reveals details about his personal life and his past, which the narrator has been tentatively seeking out for the entire book to that point. Before the holidays I sketched out that chapter, focusing on its key points and identifying parts that could be trimmed or eliminated entirely. Right now the chapter is much too long, wordy and redundant, and needs a lot of intense work. Then during the holidays I set the manuscript aside, partly to take a breather but mostly because I wasn't totally sure I was ready to plunge into heavy revision.
Last night, on the train home, I finally dove in. And I hit bottom. Though I had a sense of what needed to be done, I had little idea of how to go about it. I read through my sketch notes again and again, trying to decide what needed to be cut. I went back and forth between the manuscript and my handwritten notes, which literally required juggling while sitting in a tight train seat crowded by the stranger in the next seat, a woman whose handbag, for further discomfort, was pressed against my hip. As I struggled to organize my thoughts, I accidentally dropped my pen into the narrow gap between the seat and wall, and then later, as frustration mounted further, a stack of looseleaf sheets fell out of the manuscript cover and scattered on the floor. I picked them up, swearing. I was utterly, completely overwhelmed. I shoved all my papers together, stacked them on my lap, folded my arms across my chest, leaned back and closed my eyes, at that moment not caring if I worked on this novel - now five years in the making - ever again.
I stayed that way for several minutes, trying to calm myself - not calm enough to resume writing, but just to feel like a normal person again. Then, to my surprise, when the train's first stop was announced the woman stood and headed toward the exit. I opened my eyes as she departed, and wondered if she was truly leaving, or just tossing something in the garbage or needing to use the restroom. But when she stopped to wait in the line of departing passengers, I realized I had the seat to myself. I shoved my messenger bag to the other seat, leaned my elbow on it and stretched out, cracking open the manuscript again. I was still on edge, but that brief pause and the extra room changed things just enough. I also thought it was best to ignore the big picture for the time being, and instead of thinking about theme and major cuts, I focused completely on line editing - deleting phrases, changing verbs, all the detail work that the manuscript would eventually need anyway. And I made progress, slow but steady.
When the train reached my stop, I packed up and departed, and even the bracing cold outside was unable to dampen my mood. As I walked to my car I felt much better about things - about both the novel's potential and my general self - and decided that I could keep the writing going for a while longer yet.
Posted by: Ben Tanzer at Jan 5, 2011 11:00:48 PM
Please hold your applause until the book is completed.
Posted by: Pete at Jan 6, 2011 11:49:52 AM
Man you're picky, how about I commit to applauding then as well?
Posted by: Ben Tanzer at Jan 7, 2011 3:07:01 PM
If you really insist on applauding now, just for the fact that I didn't abandon the book, then if it gets published I'll expect a ticker tape parade.
Posted by: Pete at Jan 9, 2011 10:47:17 AM