*Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Novel #1: Overlook
For my first novel, I revised as I went along. I was taking Carol Lee Lorenzo’s Fiction Workshop at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center as well as going to another writer’s group. I would revise based on my writer’s group’s suggestions, then turn in to Carol Lee, make her suggested revisions, read to the Workshop, and revise again according to their comments. After a while I would stack up the pages with suggested revisions and tackle them all at once at the Hambidge Center. All in all, this took fifteen, yes, fifteen years to finish the novel, including reducing it from 592 manuscript pages to the recommended 400. And I revised and revised and revised and revised—you get the picture.
Enter novel #2: The Cedars
Following Anne Lamott’s advice, to write a sh**ty first draft, I decided to write my second novel differently than I did my first one. I was also influenced by Architecture of the Novel: A Writer’s Handbook by Jane Vandenburgh. Her advice is also to write a first draft and that the story will find its own shape. So I just wrote it through without any revising. Much of it was written at Hambidge. At home, however, I was not as disciplined about writing every day. Recently, I pledged to write every day in December. Each chapter was in its own file, so I had no idea of my total word count, so I added it up. Yikes, I had nearly 110,000 words and I wasn’t even through. I decided to write the end, or should I say, ends. With two point of view characters, I had to wrap up each one’s story. It took me over a week to do so, and one of their endings came to me in a half-waking realization. That end was written in dialogue, no setting, no description, but it was done.
Yes, it’s sh**ty, but only I can say that. Now for the revising–cutting, adding descriptions, shaping, all those parts of revising that are essential to writing. The thrilling part of learning my story is over for now. The hard work of deciding which scenes to cut, which to expand, which to shorten. Where are there repetitions? Where do I need to add setting? How can I improve my language? My character’s motivations? Moods?
But–I’ve finished my first draft. Last night, Charlene Ball, my partner and fellow writer, Carol Lee, my instructor and fellow writer, and I toasted my accomplishment. Now, back to my pledge of writing every day.