September 12, 2011

You Can't Rush Brilliance

As I've vented about previously, sometimes I get frustrated that my novel isn't yet finished and out the metaphorical door. But just as often, I conceive of some new brilliant idea for the story that makes it so much better, I can't believe I might have considered the manuscript complete without it.

Over the weekend, at some random moment (was it in the shower? I get all my best ideas in the shower) I had a realization about a plot problem I hadn't even been thinking about. The solution is so obvious and fits so perfectly that I'm a bit embarrassed not to have thought of it before. Happily, it's even in one of the storylines I haven't started revising yet, so I haven't even created extra work for myself.

It's a little alarming to think that this idea might never have occurred to me, especially if I'd revised more quickly, and that my novel would have been worse off because of it. (Am I only grasping at any justification for my slowness? I'm pretty sure that I'm not.) And it's even more alarming to think that someday the book will be really finished and out in the world, and then I might still come up with ideas about how it could be better.

This is the kind of worry that keeps me awake at night. That and the constant flood of brilliant ideas.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Since many of my favorite books defy a genre classification, I enjoyed Alma Katsu's Beyond the Margins post on The Perils of Writing the Indefinable, Genre-Crossing Novel: "Publishers are often leery of these books because they can be hard to market. At the same time, these genre-defying books are often the ones that catch fire and become wildly popular because they are so different."

7 comments:

laurenhat said...

I'm curious to know what your latest revelation was (and hear about any other revision ideas that you've thought were particularly brilliant). Of course, I'll have to read a draft of your novel before we can talk about it, since my first reading was longer than two weeks ago, and I have forgotten pretty much everything. ;) (Which is not a request to write faster -- I'm just enjoying hearing about the process and also happily anticipating future discussions. :) )

Christopher Gronlund said...

My last novel wouldn't have been the book it is without time. While I respect the production of genre novelists, I also respect the time it takes for someone like John Irving to write a new novel.

Unless all you're doing is talking about writing (and you aren't), it seems the best pace is the one to accomplish what you want. Genre stuff I've written has come [relatively] fast. Other writing has come slowly over years. I'm proud of it all, and I hope you find your stride.

There's a lot to be said about giving something time :)

desireearmfeldt said...

Plays occupy this funny space where they often do get revised after publication, so that if you buy one in a bookstore, and then decide you want to produce it and go buy some acting editions of the script from Samuel French or wherever, you may discover that they are quite different.

Of the two Tom Stoppard plays I've directed, Arcadia only differed by a couple of words, some British-isms changed to American-isms. Hapgood was very different, but I didn't realize that the actors' edition was the newer one, especially since I'm pretty sure that the version I'd seen performed matched the published edition -- so we switched everything to follow the published edition, thinking that was more definitive (and liking it better). A few years ago, I heard an interview with Lanford Wilson in which he mentioned that the script for The Fifth of July had been revised post-publication, which solved a decades-old mystery, namely, why did my published edition of the script not contain a critical moment I remembered from the one time I saw the show?

I find this all kind of weird and disorienting -- not that playwrights would revise their plays, but the fact that multiple published versions are wandering around the universe, and it's often not obvious that there are other versions or which is the most definitive. (Unless you compare publication dates, or know that the rule is the actor's edition ought to be the most up to date one.) Of course, it just adds to the mutable nature of plays, since they're always a collaborative art form, with contributions by writer, director, actors, etc., so every production is a slightly different version of the play.

Richard Scott said...

What a quandary, Lisa! There is always room for one more great idea, but eventually the kid has to be born, or it will never touch the world.

iphy said...

I know it's not nearly so profound as something like the creation process, but I have this problem all the time when purchasing ... basically anything. I'm often rewarded for what very much amounts to procrastination. Which doesn't help matters at all.

Of course, I am not saying you're procrastinating! More, that it can be fine to take the time you need.

Lisa Eckstein said...

Thanks, everyone, for these great comments!

Lauren: I'm looking forward to finishing this draft and getting your feedback. If I recall correctly, you haven't seen this novel since the first draft, so it's going to be very different from what you (would) remember.

Christopher: Yeah, what it really comes down to is that it takes as long as it takes, frustrating as that can sometimes be. I wouldn't attribute the difference to genre or not, but rather to different styles of writing (which sometimes does line up with the genre distinction), plus differences between authors.

desireearmfeldt: Thanks once again for offering a comparison with the world of theater. I can't decide whether to be envious of playwrights for getting to change their work even after publication, or relieved that at some point I'll be able to say, "That's as done as it's going to get."

Richard: I know, but how will I know when that time has come?!? It's definitely not now, while I'm still in the middle of working through a revision, but maybe after that, I'll be ready for the next step.

iphy: As we've discussed, I don't have that problem so much with making purchases or decisions, but I can't count the number of times that procrastination in other areas has paid off. It's a terrible reinforcement of my tendency to leave things for another day. With the writing, though, it's more like the occasional delays are part of the process: these new ideas often appear when I've had a little time away from the story.

Anna Scott Graham said...

Congrats on getting that extra push; I think best while driving my car.

Each novel has its own timeline, and I completely agree with your title; brilliance cannot be rushed. Yes, eventually this baby needs to emerge, but only you can know when that is, and not all gestations are the same. I know the feeling of why in the world did I publish it like that? Not what you want to note when your baby makes its debut... :)

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