I’ve completed my final read-through. Out-loud, which brings up lots of minor amendments. There have also been a couple of chapter re-writes which I’ve stitched together as I’ve gone along. The novel has lost a couple of thousand words – no bad thing.
When I teach time management, we talk about having a done list. Instead of getting hung up on the things left to do, you celebrate those you have completed. My done list feels huge: twelfth draft (after a couple more tweaks); new character written-in and thriving; lots of new writing that I’m proud of.
Is it completely, the best novel I could ever have produced? No, probably not. But, I’m proud of it and it feels ready to go back to the editor. Which is quite something.
I should have finished the final amendments to the novel within the next couple of weeks. It’s gone quicker than I thought it would. After that, I slot the changed chapters back into the novel, read it again and send it back to the editor.
In other words, I’m going to have to find something new to write. The obvious step is to go back to the novel I put aside to finish up the old one. It’s about three-quarters done and there’s some good stuff in it. Thing is, I have just spent over a year on yet another rewrite of the old novel; do I really want to go back again?
Nile Rodgers, speaking on a documentary about Daft Punk, said, ‘There’s no special feeling in the world, to me, that matches the magic of creating something from nothing.’
At Tate Modern they have an installation that has been running since October. Triangular boxes of soil, collected from London parks, lit and watered. No seeds have been sown, but still, in the months since it started, plants have begun to grow. Some, no doubt, from mischievous members of the public. But still, the idea of how little it takes for life to start is inspiring.
One thing I have enjoyed in the rewrite is discovering new characters who come from nowhere and interact freely. Letting them talk, start and stop. No background profiles, no context, no point. Just doing what seems fun.
So then, a period of empty boxes.
Finished the read-through and frankly, I’m not bowled over by it. I had hoped that the contrast between elderly woman and young female comedian would be stronger, but in some of the chapters their characters just disappear. The comedienne, bright and perky in one scene, becomes a bit flat in another; the elderly woman becomes a mouthpiece. Also, the story contains flashbacks to when the older woman was young and there is a bit of similarity between them there. It’s fixable. But it does mean I have yet another list of tasks. Nine, this time. Typically involving making a character more distinct or fixing an anomaly in the way the chapters are now arranged. I have a slight marathon-runner’s fatigue, but, it seems far to near the end to give up now. I’ll let you know.
My novel just got fatter. By about 14,000 words. Which, for a novel which was about 57,000 words in its last version, is quite considerable. I blame the younger female lead. This whole rewrite has been about putting her in place of the previous male character. Must have worked, if only by the word count. I certainly enjoyed writing her chapters.
In my last post, I had just worked out that I had 12 significant alterations to make, from minor to major (apologies to Ella Fitzgerald): rewriting a chapter, making sure that both sides of the novel (told from two different points of view) are consistent, or just getting the names right.
Starting in on the list on New Year’s Day, I was relieved to find that I had written some initial notes and suggests under each alteration heading. By the first week, I had knocked off six of them, though it’s taken me the rest of January to complete the rest.
The process with each one has been the same:
- This is impossible!
- I’ll read through and see how it sounds.
- Ooh look, I could that…and that…and that.
- (Reading through new version): it might be better if I do this…
- Actually, that’s all rather good.
- On to the next.
So now, for the first time since last January when I started this rewrite, I have finally put all the chapters into a single document. And that’s where the fatness came in. I had been expecting that I would still be struggling to reach 60,000, so the 71,000 came as a pleasant surprise.
The next challenge is to read it through from beginning to end and make yet more notes on what needs to change. There will be things. Not least, the shifts in style between the two points of view, which have been effectively written years apart. We’ll see. Back into the fray…
With only a little way to go on the rewrite, I decided to put all of the chapters together in a separate folder called, ‘Completed.’
Ha! The process only revealed more work to do. Twelve pieces, to be exact. The problem is that the younger character has really begun to shine. This has made some of her original chapters look, at best, functional. Also, seeing it in order, some chapters don’t make sense, or need to be amalgamated with others.
I have a picture of a house that needs repairs and painting. Every time the decorator looks up from his pot, the house has changed shaped, or one bit doesn’t look as good as it used to. Back to the DIY store.
Oddly, the process is not dispiriting. I feel I’m really getting somewhere. I like the way the two characters are interacting and there’s some writing I’m really pleased with.
In a way, I’m constructing a to-do list for the new year.
Last January, I started this last rewrite and promised the editor I would be finished by March. It is now December. I have emailed to let her know I may not be finished until spring or summer. Who knows? I don’t. But I’m still enjoying the process.
Oddly, I’m fine with a list of chapters to rewrite. It’s the unexpected knots that can knock the wind out of me. In this case encountering the mysterious case of the number of elderly woman’s sons.
In one chapter, the first one turns up; in another, they are seen together; in the third, it’s just the second son. But there have been various rewrites, and in some, it all drops down to just one son. This makes sense, as it stops the cluttering of minor characters. But in the version I’m rewriting, the second son turned up.
My heart sank at the prospect of having to rewrite and/or decide the question of one son or two, again. Fortunately, a moment of clarity at the end of a meditation, and the discovery that the other chapters matched the one-son solution, made the actual rewrite quick and fairly easy.
I feel as if I have permission to go on with the next of my listed chapters.
Apparently, if you join the SAS, they make you run a marathon. When you get to the van waiting to pick you up at the end, it pulls away, and you have to run another six miles.
As I completed my recent rewrite and realised I had at least eight more chapters to create or amend, I expected to hear the sound of a disappearing motor. Instead, the process has been a little like completing the course in the van itself. The new character is coming through, I’m enjoying writing her. The feedback from writers’ groups has been very positive. One person saying that she’ll be sorry when I eventually stop presenting them. Another, that she’d like this character as her friend.
This is all good, and a useful reminder that sometimes the daily grind can turn into something much more rewarding.