Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Work-in-Progress: October & November


I kept meaning to write an October update for the novel-in-progress, but the deeper it got into November, the more it seemed like a better idea to wait and just do both months at once. Which actually works out pretty well, considering the work I've done since the end of September has been fairly predictable - slow, steady, scattered with a few breakthroughs, and a number of dark moments. Perhaps I should back up a bit. 

When we last left off, I had just started going through the notes from my thesis director and revising the draft of my book. By the end of September, I was feeling okay, because I was still working on the first half of the book. By October, I reached the second half, and that's when things started to fall apart. I realized that a sub-plot I'd been struggling to fit into the book was not working at all, was in fact distracting from the main conflict and threatening to take over, and was - to top it off - poorly written and barely plausible. I was mortified that my thesis director had seen this shameful mess, and I deleted whole swaths of texts. I started to wonder if the book was boring (again, my greatest fear), worried that I would delete so much I'd end up with a short story instead (another one of my greatest fears), and might have had a moment or two when I considered whether this whole MFA thing had been a huge mistake. 

Luckily, that dark pit of despair didn't last too terribly long. After deleting most of the the last third of the book, I stepped back. I did a lot of thinking. I spent a week with a notebook and a pen (so quaint! so old-fashioned!) and used my various plot tools (beat sheets, Freytag triangles, charts and graphs) to figure out what my plot was doing and where it was going. It wasn't a matter of deleting anymore - now it was a case of rearranging, reframing, and rewriting. Which is what I've spent the last month doing. 

One piece of writing advice that I try to teach my students is the importance of revision. Anyone can write a story or a novel or a poem. Anyone can write a shitty first draft, to quote the inimitable Anne Lamott. The hard work, the actual craft of writing, comes later. Revision takes time, commitment, stamina. It means deleting ruthlessly, even if you think those words are the best thing you've ever written, if they aren't serving the story. It's painful, it's shameful, it's watching hours of work disappear right in front of your eyes, but it's necessary. 

That's about the time my students look at me like I'm maybe a little bit crazy. And that's okay. Maybe I am. Maybe, to be a writer, you have to be. I will say this: despite the dark moments, the disappointments, and the despair, nothing makes me happier than writing and revising. Especially once I work my way past the most painful and shameful parts of whatever I've written. (I've still got a few more of those sections to go, so this post is more for my benefit than yours.) 

At any rate, there's only one month of of 2013 left, which  makes this the final push to accomplish my one big goal for the year. Here goes nothing, here goes everything.