That Post-NaNo Letdown

Since this is the first time I finished NaNoWriMo with ten days to spare, I’ve had to resist the temptation to start revising that 94,000-word rough draft.

Why not, you ask?

Well, it’s too fresh in my head. I had that whole scene-by-scene outline before me as I did all that frantic writing, so I’d be too tempted this close to the rough draft to say, “Ah, this is fine. It follows the outline perfectly, so why mess with a good thing?”

Now, I’m not saying that rough draft isn’t a good thing. It’s a complete rough draft, and that’s the accomplishment. Frankly, anyone who goes into NaNoWriMo thinking he or she will have a complete and final novel draft in thirty days, and some unfortunately do, is deluding him- or herself and lowering the bar for indie authors.

I know that within that rough draft is the kernel of a good story; otherwise, I wouldn’t have written it. I wouldn’t have put my butt in a chair for eight to ten hours straight for too many days in a row just to write a piece of crap. Right now, that draft is fulsome, i.e., overdone. It’s full of unnecessary words, too many dialogue tags, and long jaunts inside characters’ heads.

To make certain the non-elective surgery to come is successful, I need to let it sit awhile, let it get out of my head, which is hard because it’s book two of a three-book series; I’m already plotting and planning book three. What’s more, I left a major issue between two characters unresolved at the end of the rough draft, and that’s driving me nuts trying to figure out how to address it.

In the past I’ve put a rough NaNo draft aside for up to six months before I’ve delved back into it. That may seem like a long time, but that has worked in the past for clearing the deck in my head and allowing me to take a look at the draft with a fresh perspective, or rather, an editing/revising perspective. I’m much more likely, after that interval of time, to cut those unnecessary words and extra dialogue tags, to turn the internal musings of a character into dialogue or action.

Writing is a process, a long, convoluted, and sometimes painful process, but the first step is having a draft to work from. Regardless of the critics of National Novel Writing Month–we call them “NaNo Haters”–having that draft kicks the process off, and it’s all uphill from there, uphill as in working hard and making the climb to reach that apex of a polished, readable, publishable draft. And that’s a good thing.

Revisions, Revisions, Revisions

Whoever said revising is the hardest part of writing, give him or her a cigar. The odd thing is, I don’t know why that 1) surprises me and/or 2) annoys me. After all, I’ve been writing/revising something for close to forty years. Not a single one of my government reports or magazine articles made it to print without multiple revisions. I suppose in that case because the revisions were engendered by third parties rather than being self-induced, I just accepted it and moved on to the next one.

Every writer–no, don’t deny this because it’s every writer–grumbles when it comes to polishing that rough draft. Some people erroneously decide that first cut is good enough and rush to Smashwords or Kindle Direct Publishing and bestow on us a rough draft full of plot holes, inconsistencies, typos, grammatical goofs, putrid punctuation, and sloppy style. They are usually the first ones to wail that self-publishers get no respect. Well, duh, accept some responsibility for that. And I’ve self-published three collections of genre short stories. I agonized over every word, used the services of a proofreader, and some typos still got past us. I felt as if I’d betrayed the reader in that case. The advantage of direct publishing, though, is that I can upload a corrected version and only lose maybe one day of availability.

When my workshop instructor at Tinker Mountain praised my novel excerpt, he made a point of declaring how polished it was–and then suggested some line edits, ones that were necessary. He didn’t ask me for a copy of the entire MS as is. He told me to go home and revise it then get back in touch. I didn’t and don’t resent that feedback. This is a person whose opinion I respect, and he’s right. It’s a decent rough draft, which needs a lot of work to be a final product.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from grumbling as I go about Revision Round One.

What, you ask, you’re going to revise it more than once? Yes. I have a lot to digest about it: the instructor’s critique but my fellow workshoppers’ critiques as well. As I reviewed their comments, I saw they, with their fresh-eyed attention to the MS, made some good points which I have to factor into a revision. That means at least two revisions, perhaps more because I always hand off a “finished” MS to someone who will look at it from an editor’s perspective.

Why am I grumbling, then? Well, this novel is very different from what I usually write, which are historical thrillers. This novel is a combination of literary fiction and historical fiction (because it has a present-day and a past timeline interwoven), with a strand of mystery added, and the revision is taking me away from my characters, Mai and Alexei, who are like friends. Go on, admit it. Your characters become larger than life to you, too; otherwise, you’d write them with one dimension.

In this novel I’m also exploring a subject I never thought I’d address–race relations, historically and in the present day, and that’s by no means easy. Not that I’m tiptoeing around anything. I’m working very hard to be honest, and it’s difficult. My usual characters are just as bleeding-heart liberal as I am, so to be inside the head of a woman from the 1940’s to whom white supremacy is a given is very, very challenging. I’m trying not to make her a caricature and to show her as a human being, but that’s a trial as well. It’s too easy to just make her evil and not explain why she is the way she is.

However, doing something different from what you usually write expands you as a writer. It opens you to other possibilities, makes you look at your writing differently and more critically. A few years ago, I would have told you I could never have written a story of fewer than 500 words, much less 100 words, but I do it, twice, every week. I never disdained literary fiction–I read a lot of it–but I never thought I’d write a novel-length literary fiction work. But I have, and I’m very proud of it. Better yet, I’m excited about it, and I’ll be even more excited about it when it comes through the other side of the revision process.

Where revising your work is concerned, resistance is futile. You’ll be a better writer through revision.