June 26, 2010

Starting Over

I've spent the past year-ish revising THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE, a novel about three generations of a family. I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2007, in my most intense and successful monthlong noveling endeavor to date. That year, I did substantial advance planning and research, and I wrote over 80,000 words in November to reach The End. Considering it was written in a month, my first draft was darn good. But it was still a first draft written in a month.

As soon as that month was over, I went back to revising THE OVERWORLD, and I didn't return to DAMAGE for more than a year. After more planning and research, I decided that for the second draft of the novel, I'd try something I hadn't dared before: I would rewrite the novel from scratch. No editing the first draft file, no retyping the hard copy -- I would start anew with a blank screen. Since I'd written the first draft so quickly, I knew that most of the text wasn't worth saving. The good parts were in the story and characters I'd developed while writing, and those were more vibrant in my head than on the page.

Starting over worked so well that I might produce all my second drafts this way from now on. In previous revisions, I've held on to material that didn't really work -- it was already there, so it was easier to come up with excuses to keep it than to do something different. The new strategy gave me the opportunity to think carefully about everything I preserved from the first draft.

In preparing for the revision, I did a lot of index card shuffling and also created an outline. I had big changes in mind for the story, which I planned out in advance, but many of second draft's new directions emerged as I wrote. Because I started over, I got some of the benefits of writing a first draft (unexpected flashes of brilliance!) and also some of the problems (what is the point of this subplot?). So the story's still not quite right yet. But it's getting there.

Good Stuff Out There:

M.J. Rose on All Things Considered. Lynn Neary follows Rose as she visits stores signing copies of her latest novel. Rose, who started out self-publishing and eventually earned a traditional book deal, talks about the realities of self-promotion.

Michael Chabon on Fresh Air. An abridged version of this interview was rerun yesterday, but I'm linking to the original broadcast from October, which contains more good stuff about writing and reading, especially from 20:33 to 26:13. (Thanks, Dad!)

1 comment:

Anna Scott Graham said...

I'm near the end of a massive edit on a book from spring of 2008, and having counted, this is the thirteenth time I've poked at it. Some were less poking than others, but there are so many ways to revise. The key is finding what works best, tweaking when necessary, but realizing that editing isn't the bane of this craft for which it's often recognized. I actually like revising; doesn't seem as hard as writing, in that I've already written it!

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