Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WiP Wednesday: Revision Hell? Put the Laptop Down


The Austin BBQ Vacation was a success. I think my blood/barbecue sauce count is at lethal levels. I swear I'm going to have to live on falafel and salad for a few weeks just to get all the Texas beef out of my system. Like I said, a success.

Had the best brisket EV-UH at Black's in Lockhart, saw Inception at an Alamo Drafthouse, swam in the cool waters of Barton Springs in Zilker Park, ate more bbq at the Salt Lick, was eaten alive by ginormous Texas mosquitoes, and scared at two am by a raccoon ultimate fighting ring that spontaneously appeared on the roof of our cabin in the "wilderness" of South Austin. I also had some time to get my thoughts together about my WiP. And I didn't spend a single second thinking about Evangeline, or the revisions I'll be doing, or literary agents (much), or what my readers will think of the scenes I rewrote from scratch. Which brings us to the point of today's post.

Before I left on vacation, I was stuck for a while on how to rewrite a pivotal conflict in Evangeline. I kept looking at it and staring at the words I'd written as if I could improve the scene by simply changing a word here or there.

That's when I put the laptop down, grabbed my notebook, and walked out to the backyard to stare at the fig tree and enjoy the tiny bit of breeze rustling its leaves. Away from my computer, freed from those chains of text that were choking me, I had a spark of an idea. Then someone knocked on my front door. I scrawled that spark into my notebook and left it in my chair.

After I got up to answer the door, after I nodded at my neighbor as she told me about the vacation she was going on, and could I get her mail for her, and made some iced tea for my husband who was working late and would be home soon, and started some laundry, I held onto that spark. All the while, even when I was listening to my neighbor, the spark grew. It just needed a little air, a little breathing room, some space away from that authoritative looking text in my word processor.

It's not such as surprise. When I need to plot my novels, I turn to a notebook to synopsize my thoughts, condense the mini-scenes I see in my head and question the repercussions of what happens in each of those scenes. It's easier for me that way, instead of sitting in front of a blinking cursor on a blank Word document. It makes revision feel more like drafting, and I get that amazing first draft high, where even though I know the writing is a little sloppy, it's new and fresh and I haven't read it a thousand times.

Once I was able to get back to my notebook, changing the scene didn't feel so much like I was changing the entire reality of my novel. It felt more like a do-over on a scene that had stayed the same while most of the rest of the book slowly changed around it, a scene that was difficult for me to write in the first place. Since I first jotted down the bones of that scene, I can also honestly consider myself a better writer, so rewriting made sense from a logical standpoint. But it was still a scary prospect.

Staring at the scene while it was a part of the full, its font exuding fear-instilling permanence, kept me from seeing the potential that was there if I was only brave enough to scrap everything and start over. Only my notebook provides a comforting, safe venue to experiment with the lives of the characters I've grown to love.

So if you're stuck on revising a scene, try putting the laptop down and going to a notebook. Or if that's not your thing, open a brand new document and start from scratch without having the manuscript open or within immediate access. You don't need to be chained to that old dialogue or prose you wrote a year ago. If any of it is worth keeping, you'll have it memorized by now, you've read it so many times, right? That's what I thought.

Keep the faith, everyone out there in revision-land. It'll all be worth it in the end.

5 comments:

Sara McClung ♥ said...

Okay, so first of all... My mouth is watering! I haven't had brisket in SO long.

Second of all--you are so right on with the notebook thing. It works in revision, and when writing a tricky scene in a first draft.

Congrats on reworking the scene!

Tess said...

And naps.... that cusp between sleep and waking always seems to give me my best answers.

I'm craving BBQ now... mmmm, that sounded like a delicious vacation.

Candice said...

I do enjoy writing in notebooks from time to time. My only problem is that I have so many of them I often have to dig through a dozen to find the notes I took... I guess that means I need to get organized.

Krispy said...

Glad your vacation was full of DELICIOUSNESS and fun! :D Yay!

I don't know about the notebook for me, but you're SO right about stepping away from the old doc. Sometimes, a point will become clear in my head only to get muddied again when I try to put it into the doc with all that other wordage around it. Mental breaks help too.

Lola Sharp said...

I AM HUNGRY. *drools* I want an illegal level of BBQ sauce in my bloodstream, drunk on its tangy goodness.

Yay on your writing breakthrough! (don't you just love writing breakthroughs? *nods*)