I am having the opposite problem of my blog-mates Adrienne Spangler and Carol Vogt: I can’t stop having fun with writing. I have first drafts of no less than three “novels” saved in various computer files and paper files and writing notebooks and scraps of loose-leaf paper scattered throughout my house. One of them has been rewritten in its entirety three times and fails to get any less rough.
As a relative newcomer to taking myself seriously as a writer (I wrote my first piece of fiction a little more than three years ago), I give myself credit for how far I’ve come. While I used to struggle to formulate a wordy and convoluted seven page draft for a workshop group, I am now able to put words on the page fluently. After participating in three NaNoWriMo sessions, it seems I can’t stop spewing out pages and pages of rough, rambling ideas. And, yes, these ramblings often have plots–which my earlier work lacked–and a structure that readers other than me can understand.
So, what I’m trying to say is that my writing has improved. I’m not just being hard on myself. I have had success revising short pieces, taking a decent draft and hammering on it until something new and much better emerges. I have experienced that feeling of “being done” with a story.
But perhaps it is time to go less easy on myself. I have a huge pile of good ideas, a noisy bunch of characters I’ve fallen in – and out – and back in love with, thousands of decent sentences.
But the projects seem so big.
As a result, I’m starting to take myself less seriously as a writer. Especially this week.
I am currently taking a seminar on writing instruction by the talented Stephanie Guerra (author of Torn). I have spent the last year preparing to be an elementary school teacher, and am trying not to be terrified of teaching others how to write.
Stephanie introduced me to the book On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. In the first chapter, Zinsser relays a story of participating in a panel discussion on writing as a vocation. The panel consisted of him and a surgeon who dabbled in writing in his spare time. The doctor talks about how fun writing is, how easy, how the words just appear while he writes, and how he lets them rest wherever they happen to land on the paper. Zinsser replies that writing for him is hard and revision is how he spends the bulk of his time: rewriting and rewriting the same sentences. No matter what. Even if he doesn’t feel like it.
I don’t want to be the surgeon, toying with writing. I want to write.
It is time for me to start the long trudge up revision mountain. To learn some new habits, to revise and revise again until I start to feel comfortable pulling apart a giant manuscript and stitching it back together. (Well, maybe not comfortable. But at least less terrified.)
I’m going to say it here: This summer–this week–I will begin revision on a big project.
Tune in next month to hear a progress report.
What is your advice for how to get started on (and stick with!) the revision process?