the private mortification of wobbly first drafts

Monday, November 30, 2015

Earlier this year, after spending many months packing up and staging a family home, I dove deep into the heart of a new book.

I had an idea. I went with it.

It came upon me, rushed straight through me, was so clear in every way that I could not see (despite several rounds of editing) where all the problems were. The airiness in places. The repetitions. The transitions that were the farthest thing from cool.

In the heat of excitement over an idea, a place, a family of characters, I failed to see the novel's many failures.

And so months have gone by. And so dear, wise, kind literary agent Danielle Smith has read the book and offered hope. And so I sit with the book now again on my lap, working through a first real revision (the kind you can do only after your original excitement has cooled). I'm cataloging all the mistakes I made.

(I blush. I shake my head. I have to stand up. Shake it off.)

I'm thinking, Beth, you are better than this. Beth, you should have known. Beth, how could you not have heard the breakage in this sentence? Beth, where was your sense of rhythm?

I'm thinking, Beth, when will you stop being a novice writer?

I'm thinking, Not anytime soon.

I'm thinking we're all, in some way, always novice writers, no matter how many books we've writen through.

That we only save ourselves by revising well once the original heat and rush have cooled.


St. Albans Lower School Library, Washington, D.C. said...

Part of being a seasoned writer is recognizing the novice one lurking right at the top of the excitement...where she should be! You are both writers simultaneously which is why your writing is SO GOOD!

Cassandra Krivy Hirsch said...

Beth, I will take some courage from you here as I try to close in on my intention to revise. I've got a first draft of a YA that rushed similarly through me a year ago. It's doing nothing but pickling now, and it's not going to get any sweeter just sitting in my jar of a laptop. I do appreciate your musings, and will finally sit down and enjoy one of your novels (teaching has displaced reading for pleasure - or, at least, I've let it). said...

What a wonderful post! Reading your thoughts first, then the summary of what you've accomplished and seeing yes, she is still a real person - is inspirational. And I don't use that word flippantly. I am working on my first novel, that was a NaNoWriMo challenge last year. Now a year later I have the privileged of working with an amazing editor as the 'running around in circles and jumping up and down' phase past, and the work begins. It has been baptism by fire, but I've loved every minute of it. Now to tuck ego aside, learn, keep learning, oh yeah, and learn a little more so I can get the next story four stories in my head out and give them the attention they need too! My Italian side wants this to happen by tomorrow! Yeah, I know, I know - it its time :) So glad Tracey Yokes shared your blog with me. Looking forward to reading your stories! Breathe Deep, Think Peace, Patty

Victoria Marie Lees said...

With a clear head, a warm heart, and focused eyes, the writer can find the real life in the story.

Thank you all for offering this realism into the life of a writer. I try to let hope sit on my shoulder as I revise.

Unknown said...

Revising a memoir is such torture. As I work at that, my monkey mind thinks of more to tell. Since it's a love letter to my sons, I just might never be finished. ��

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