Monday, September 12, 2016

Revising is easy*. Writing is harder.

“[Image: A gif of Hamilton writing in the dark with candlelight. There is text that says “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” End description.]
doodling :P

In recent months, I've jumped from a project I was revising to a brand-new one, and remembered or relearned a lot about this building-from-the-ground-up phase of writing. The first draft is going reasonably quickly; my #amwriting tweets lately have been about middles (which may be a subject for another post). But a big reason that I'm not getting mired in one scene or another is that I'm giving myself permission to leave lots of things for Revision Time.

In fact, I had the beginnings of a list of things to check for in revision before I even started writing. At the very beginning of this process, I actually found planning easier than composing, which was a surprise to me since I think my strengths lie more in voice and dialogue than in plot and structure.

But I think I know what's going on: it's a need to focus on one thing at a time. Paradoxically, writing a sentence of a novel, especially a novel you don't know well yet, involves thinking about lots of aspects of that novel and making lots of decisions. (I love the way Kristin Cashore expands on this idea, and how it operates in fantasy, her genre of choice.) When you've just met a bunch of characters and you want to make them greet each other, pick a restaurant, and go there, decisions involved will probably include:
  • each character's voice
  • the narrator's voice
  • what sorts of restaurants, and how many options, are available in this setting
  • who in the group is a decision maker, who's an arguer, and who's a follower
  • how much time everyone has
  • everyone's taste in food
  • dietary restrictions based on health and/or belief systems
  • how much everyone can spend, or wants to spend, on dinner
  • everyone's means and preferences in terms of transportation
And that's all before the salad course, if there is one.

That's why on this draft, I'm finding that it's often easier to just pick something. There are a few things I knew for sure going into this WIP, so some decisions are easy to make, but the rest, I can leave for later. Eventually, I'll probably either realize organically, or decide actively, that a particular character likes to take charge, or that another character makes himself feel good by judging others. I'll put each of those traits on my revision list, and for each, I'll go through every mention of the character, and every scene in which the character is present (or should be), and add evidence for, and often evolution of, that trait. (Scrivener helps.) Revising this way means that I see one character's arc (or setting element, etc. etc.) all at once, without much distraction from other aspects of the novel; if something gives me pause while I'm revising for something else, I just add it to my revision list to deal with later.  

After I figure out if the main character's little brother is the type to fill up on rolls.

*Easy is probably an exaggeration. We'll see how I feel in a few months.