Monday, May 23, 2011

The Novel, Guerrilla Style Part 12: The Manuscript and Revision

If I may, I'd like to recount my exploits from graduate school. How many silly, stuffy or burnt out teachers say that? And it isn't graduate school so much as my thesis: From Ansbach to Color. For starters, the novel began in January of 2007 from a writing prompt exercise assigned (by no other than) Kyle Bass. I turned the 225 page, 49,000 word manuscript in 2 years later. Two years. Not the proper guerrilla style novel the subsequent novels have proved to be. But, the thesis underwent several revisions, and many of them came while I was still writing it. In a period of two years, I had three different readers, two advisers and an assigned second reader. I had to listen to three different people telling me what I ought to be doing and what needed to be done. It was a worthwhile experience, but what an awful job. The three made strong opinions and many times they didn't agree on certain points. One loved the lyrical expositions and the other two thought that the writing was cumbersome. They were all correct in their assessments. In the weeks leading up to the final deadline, I trimmed a 350 page novel of close to 72,000 words by 1/3. Tough job. Ultimately, the final project was much better, tighter, more concise. And the revision process is indeed part of the creation. Earlier in the series, I talked about Anthony's three in one method . This method, as you recall is draft one, two and three in one step. Yes, this is challenging, but it omits the longer process of distillation that was my process at grad school. Just because I can subscribe to and employ this three in one system does not mean I am (or those who follow the 3 in 1 is) immune to revision. When I talk about revision here, I do mean in the macro sense of the piece. If you have a reader who tells you she had no idea what your book is about, then who cares about your well crafted dialogue or impeccable grammar?
Revision can mean the difference of readability. Revision can mean a good reading experience from the (un)forgettable.
If you're resistant to revision, you've lost. First, remember that you spent 12 weeks writing your novel, and those hours are probably uncountable. You've taken the time to put the piece in working manuscript form. You've built characters, you've done all this work. I know that there is probably some emotional stake in the piece. Don't have so much emotional stake that you cannot bare to edit, revise or even remove parts of the piece. Failure to edit or revise or simply tinker with the piece or a portion of it because of emotional hang ups is not only short-sighted, it's bad for everything. It's bad for the piece, the characters within it, bad for you and bad for readers.
At this stage, take the revising of this piece as a challenge and a treat. The revision may even take longer than the piece took to write, so be it. Revise it and make good on it. When it's revised, consider the job done. Some writers will revise one piece over and over for the whole careers. Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass comes to mind. That kind of chronic revision, too, is not being able to let go of something emotionally.
In this week of The Novel, Guerrilla Style, we're about the job, doing the job and getting it done. Listen to your readers, listen to your intuition and done fear the revision.

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