Monday, December 22, 2008

Back Home

The day-job requirements, all that grading, are now complete. The fall semester over, I can return to my writing in full force, at least for a few weeks. Now what? What happens when you've separated yourself from that hot streak and you're suddenly back in the saddle, to coin a phrase?

While I was on my hot streak, plot flowed from my fingers like the current in a river. Now, after some time away, I must go back, read what I've written, and try desperately to feel the flow of that river current once again. Easier said than done.

Does this need to flow cause anguish? You betcha, but separation is also a good thing. When I advise my students about revising a written work, I say, "Don't try to revise the day you think you're finished. Wait at least twenty-four hours and then re-read, re-vision the work. While things are fresh in your mind, while you still remember what you meant, your brain can't see the problems."

You heard me right. What you meant to say and what you really said jumble themselves together like kittens sleeping in a basket. They become so intertwined that it's almost impossible to separate one from the other. Immediate revision lends itself to failure because our brain reads what we meant to say rather than what we said. From simple grammatical errors to confused and awkward sentence structure to failed plotlines, the process of quick revision doesn't work.

As I return to that glorious third novel, I've noticed things. What I thought of as clever quips are really dry prose and deviations from character and plot. What I felt worked toward character development appears to be nothing more than exercises in description. I've used forty words in some places to say what one good word would have said more eloquently and more effectively. Distance from that work in progress stimulates more real progress than forcing that thousand words out each day. Because I've had some time away, my brain is reading the new novel as if I just picked it up off the bookstore shelf. My revisions are more objective. I see where the author, in this case 'me,' is pushing herself into the work rather than letting the work stand alone.

Do I feel bad that I didn't notice these things while I furiously revised each day? No. It's not a sign that I'm a bad writer. It's just the normal function of the brain. For instance, if I were to stare at a lightbulb then close my eyes, the image of that bulb would remain on the back of my eyelids as just a bright light with no real form. The same is true with words. If you stare long enough and hard enough at a manuscript, the image of the words linger like that lightbulb, but the image and reality may be two different things.

The difference? The image is what I thought I said. The reality is what I really said, how I really put the plot together, how I really managed a character. Distance does make the heart grow fonder, and it makes your writing stronger. Victory comes from strength. Distance helps strengthen the piece and leads the work toward that great victory: publication.


. said...

Very good points, Willie. As writers progress, some will be able to edit and revise (well) right after. But that's on a case-by-case basis. There are many hugely successful authors out there who literally still put their WIP aside for weeks or months before they revisit, to catch what you've described.

The beauty of working and practicing something is that it becomes easier with time and you improve with that time as well. One day you'll realize that you're forcing something AS you do it and fix it then and there.

And then, when that level of skill is reached, you'll hit the next mountain to climb.

But, after all, the journey IS the destination. So keep on climbing!


WKEverhart said...

A condition devoutly to be wished: the ability to see the problems as I write. Thanks for your support through my learning process.