Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Work in Progress: Revisions, or "Yo, Adrian!"

Well, I’ve started revising my third novel, tentatively titled Prodigal Daughters. This is the “final” revision (ha, ha)—but it is the last stage before I send it out into the world for the first time. Usually, I enjoy this final phase of revising—all that tinkering with word choice and commas; the excitement of the exact right phrase—but I find that during the process of writing the draft I have taken on some very bad habits that amuse me now that I see them in full action.

I’ve been working on this book for a while and all along have been showing it in progress to my writing group. I’ve learned that when showing novels in progress to people, it doesn’t make sense to perfect every sentence, since the chances are excellent that the sentence you spend all afternoon working on is the sentence in the scene that everyone agrees is unnecessary. Cut! There goes your perfect sentence…and all that time you spent making it so.

So during the earlier draft stages, I became rather lazy and literally found myself thinking, “Oh, this is good enough for the writing group.” Or—even worse—if I came upon a plotting point that I didn’t think I had resolved: “I'm sure the writing group will know how to fix that.” And the sin of all sins: knowing in my heart of heart that something wasn’t working, but thinking, “Not to worry, I can sneak this lapse by the writing group.” (Yes, they often catch those lapses; but I have put a few things over on them due to the inherent difficulties of reading a novel chapter by chapter over the course of years.)

Now that it’s crunch time and the draft does need to be “perfect,” there’s no falling back on that lazy thinking. No one’s going to bail me out; no writing group eyes are going to look over this revision; no writing group brain trust is going to help me figure out how to end Chapter Two if Callie doesn’t storm off in a huff as I’ve written. See, she also storms off in a huff at the end of Chapter Five, and that’s too many huffs for one person in one book…and because the group only reads a chapter at a time, I did manage to sneak that by them! But now I’m alone in a room with my heart of heart saying, “Nu-uh. Can’t fool me, Miss Smarty-Pants.”

I guess that’s what I love about revising: There are no shortcuts. There’s only you—armed with what you’ve learned about your characters and your story over the years you’ve been working—and it’s you alone up against the word. Mano a mano. You will never wrestle the word into submission. But with perseverance, luck, and faith in yourself, you can be a worthy foe and emerge standing. Like Rocky Balboa, you can go the distance—with the pages and the sweat to prove it.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.