As many of you know, my first novel is under contract to be published next year. Right now I'm in the revision stage. I have been in the revision stage for an embarrassingly long time, largely due to split commitments of my time. I did some good solid work in August and then had to mostly stop writing to take care of Halloween sewing business.
November first, I promised myself. I'll dedicate all November to rewriting that last section.
But the problem with setting the story down is, the muscles get flabby. The pot goes off the boil. Your trail of breadcrumbs gets eaten or blows away and when you come back to the trail you find it all obscurred and you can't remember where you started from, much less where you're going.
I've spent the last three weeks trying to find my way back to the trail. I've been sitting down at the computer every day from 8 am til roughly noon, sometimes longer. I've been rereading the text that went before. I've written a new preamble. I've rewritten the same opening scene four times. I've gone to write in coffee shops. I've reread my favorite authors. I've watched my new guilty-pleasure TV shows. I've hunted for mood music.
Nothing seems to be working.
Finally this week I turned to my last resort: my beta readers. I contacted a couple of friends and asked them to read through the revised text so far. It's kind of like cleaning the house when you know company is coming--you look at the familiar mess through someone else's eyes and you scurry accordingly. Also, when your beta readers are fans they tend to give you nice feedback about what you wrote and you realize that scene that gave you such a headache turned out all right after all.
Last night I tried something new, as well: I took the printed copy of the text being revised, sorted it into chapters and spread the chapters all over the practice-room floor. Then I took a stack of sticky notes, and for each chapter I jotted down a few words encapsulating what happened in each scene. Sixteen chapters in all.
I arranged the sticky notes on our big wall-mirror in the practice room, so I could stand up and move them around. I divided them into the three acts of the story, and I immediately noticed what I already knew intuitively: Act one was way too long and unfocused.
I took a second set of sticky notes, and for each chapter I wrote in red a synopsis of the subtext for each scene, and whether it needed to be moved or combined elsewhere.
This week I bought the latest hardback by a popular author my husband and I both admire. It was an anniversary gift to the two of us.
Last night I sat in the living room and read the first two chapters.
"How is it?" the SP asked.
I looked at him for a long time before answering. I didn't want to say yet, for various reasons--I didn't want to color his opinion, or my own; we both have been wary of this author's recent work. Like all artists, he's getting older, and his style has changed.
"It's satisfying something in me," I said at last.
Later, in bed, the SP was reading over the first two chapters. "He's become an old man," he said ruefully. "He's become one of those artists who has to tell you what he knows about the world. He's not content to just observe and reflect, anymore."
I made a mental note of that. I rather think that what's gotten me in trouble with this rewrite is trying to do too much interpretation, not enough focusing on the narrative action. You can't force subtext, in my opinion. The best stories are inkblots anyway; trying to impose too much meaning on them renders them stiff and pedantic.
This morning I woke up with the feel of a heavy leather saddle in my hands, the dusty smell of horse on my skin. I realized it was evening, just after supper, and Trace was saddling up for the night watch. I realized I needed to back up the starting point of the story a bit, to do what I needed to do.
This is a starting point I hadn't contemplated before. I don't know what made me think of it. But it's the first clear, honest sensory image I've had from Trace for months. So I'm going with it.