On revising a novel

I have been revising my first novel, Glue, for several years now. I have a second novel in progress, The Trick, but I’m primarily focused on the first. At some point I have to send it out into the world. My goal is to find agent representation for it.

How will I know when it’s ready? How will I know when the final piece has been dropped into place and (to use a metaphor from an editor friend of mine) the heart of the novel beats? Will I forever have the nagging sense that this or that character arc or plot point could have been handled better? Will I ever really fall in love with my own manuscript?

Getting others to give me feedback helps, but sometimes it backfires. I’m still haunted by a negative critique I got from a friend who completely trashed my writing. Lesson learned: There will always be someone, somewhere, who hates your writing. Everyone’s a critic. Don’t be discouraged. My critical friend and I have a fundamentally different view of how fiction should work.

I’ve had several other people read the manuscript, and I’ve taken action on what I think was the best feedback. I’m pleased because one of my beta readers from last year has agreed to re-read the current draft. She’s my target audience, she’s got a critical eye, and she seems to genuinely enjoy my writing. I can trust her advice.

I have a push-pull relationship with the manuscript. Sometimes I think it’ll never be done. The more I read, the more room for improvement I see in my own writing. Sometimes I hear my critical friend’s words in my head.

At other times, writing is a joy. I look forward to getting my hands dirty, ripping out good writing and replacing it with better writing, pruning the story. I like getting immersed in the fictional world.

The editing process can be very satisfying. Revising is like painting. Layers are added and removed in slow succession until the final product looks nothing like the earliest draft.

What’s your relationship with your drafts? Do you like revising? Do you have that one draft that is always only 90% done no matter how much you work on it? Are you a perfectionist?

early draft of a green yellow and red abstract acrylic painting

green yellow and red abstract acrylic painting

Stygian blue, a poem

at first just a single color appeared to me
aubergine
like the faintest hint of dawn
then, a few minutes later
ultramarine
like the eyes of a newborn baby
quickly following that
coral
like so many tropical seas
before I knew it
all manner of colors arrived
in a flash of word association
bend of the knuckle
skin of the egg
russet, plum, and soursop
elderberry, date, and endive
sunburnt flesh
hyperbolic orange
stygian blue

abandoned car in Death Valley

Glue, a poem

I make art
one drawing after another
some with leaves in the trees
some with no leaves
some with brown grass
some with green
watercolors flow from brushes
onto tree-filled landscapes
collages arise from construction paper
red, yellow, green, and blue
pasted together into intricately detailed shapes
I love the waxy feel of crayons pressed hard
scratched-off layers of wax
paper bent from watercolor
swirls of colors that haven’t fully dried
I love the stiff feeling of clay that hasn’t been pulled yet
the softer, warmer feel of it after it is kneaded
the feel of paper stuck to paper
the smell of glue

intricate collage

The sequence above was taken from my novel-in-progress Glue and finessed a bit to turn it into a poem. The main character is (like me) an artist and (unlike me) likes making collages. I made the collage above when I was a college student. It is a study of the scene outside my dorm window.

Colors, a poem

I dreamt of color
cerulean blue
cadmium orange
antimony yellow
pyrrole red
sage, russet, and plum
persimmon, vermilion, and rose
gamboge, the color of resin
falu, the color of Swedish cottages
I saw breathing walls
breathing hands
dancing cobblestones
moving words
swirls of smoke
shirts that rearranged their fibers
tints that mixed and floated away
chimerical, hyperbolic, imaginary
a halo of a fade of a wash


Image source: Plants and Their Application to Ornament (1896)

Writing tips for those with little time

With a full-time job, social life, family, and other obligations, you may find it difficult to find time to write. Here are five tips for finishing that project in a time-boxed manner.

  1. Get your butt in that chair. You may be familiar with the “butt in chair time” concept if you work in technology or other demanding field. The idea is that you’re not putting in the work unless you’re present at your desk. That’s a terrible concept in the workplace, but it’s fantastic for writing. I have some good news and some bad news: Your muse? She doesn’t exist. If you wait for your muse to show up before you sit down to write, you’ll never finish that poem/project/novel. What counts in writing is butt in chair time and fingers on keyboard time (or pen on paper time, if you roll that way). Sit there. Even if nothing is happening. Learn to love writer’s block. Eventually, the words will come.
  2. Read, read, and read. When it’ s not your allotted time for writing, read some more. Reading is absolutely the best way to learn how to write. Pick books that are totally different from your writing style, very similar to your writing style, and everything in between. If you’re writing a romance, read plenty of romances but also plenty of mysteries, and vice versa. Get some inspiration. No, browsing the web doesn’t count (see below).
  3. Shut down social media. Close those tabs. Your BFF can wait for you to post that kitten photo another day. You can hold off on looking at your BFF’s kitten photos until another day. All the kitten and puppy photos will still be there, when you’re done writing. Prioritize the writing.
  4. Don’t write and edit at the same time. Editing is by nature a destructive act. It must be done, but when you are there to create, just create. Save a separate allotment of time for editing. When you’re in revision mode, then you can put on your editor’s cap. Separate the two. Say, Saturdays are for revisions, and Sundays are for adding more words. When you’re there to add words, resist the urge to go back and change what you’ve already written.
  5. Set a schedule. Whatever you have time for. I set aside 2-3 hours a day in the evening. Whatever it is, stick to it. Make it regular. Get your coffee/herbal tea/snacks lined up. Free yourself from distraction. Get someone else to do the dishes/do the laundry/babysit the kids for that precious hour or two. You’ll be surprised what you can write in a short period of time once you stick to the schedule. When the time is up, stop writing! This may sound counterintuitive, but you can’t write if you never recharge. Eventually you’ll train yourself to write on the schedule, recharge off the schedule.

closeup of a notebook

 

Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours (1814)

I found this fascinating text on The Public Domain Review, which is a treasure trove of copyright-free works, both images and texts. Extending Werner’s system, this is Patric Syme’s classic taxonomic guide to the colors of the natural world.

Patrick Syme, Werner’s nomenclature of colours; Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1821.

WHITES.

1. Snow White, is the characteristic colour of the whites ; it is the purest white colour ; being free of all intermixture, it resembles new-fallen snow.

2. Reddish White, is composed of snow white, with a very minute portion of crimson red and ash grey.

3. Purplish White, is snow white, with the slightest tinge of crimson red and Berlin blue, and a very minute portion of ash grey.

4. Yellowish White, is composed of snow white, with a very little lemon yellow and ash grey.

5. Orange-coloured White, is snow white, with a -very* small portion of tile red and king’s yellow, and a minute portion of ash grey.

6. Greenish White, is snow white, mixed with a very little emerald green and
ash grey.

7. Skimmed-milk White, is snow white, mixed with a little Berlin blue and
ash grey.

8. Greyish White, is snow white, mixed with a little ash grey.

colors