Every novelist writes in their own way. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what revising a work in progress looks like for me.
I’m working on my tenth (or so) novel at the moment, and I’ve started to see that there’s a rhythm and predictable sequence to how I write. It’s taken a while to start to feel like I might understand the stages my writing goes through.
Outlining comes first and I use a variety of methods to get that done: mind maps, making notes in Scrivener (the writing software I use) and on scraps of paper. Sometimes I use an Excel spreadsheet if I feel I need to.
Then I dictate the first draft using a headset with a microphone. Dictation helps me to get the story down as quickly as possible because I need raw material to work with.
Once the first draft is complete, the heavy lifting can take place. That means taking the raw material and turning it into something resembling a book. I call this revising.
Today when I was working on a chapter for the next Town Called Horse mystery I stumbled on a metaphor for how revising a novel often works for me.
You know how when you move into a new house, there are times when you can put your furniture into a room and it all looks great right off the bat. The bookshelves or bed or chair or desk feel like they find their correct spot right away.
Other times, you’ll set up the room and it just doesn’t feel right. So you know you have to reconfigure things. And that can mean taking furniture apart – for example taking all the stuff of a shelving unit and setting it aside and then disassembling the unit. Once you’ve got everything moved around you can reassemble things and put the book and nick-knacks back on their shelves. But it can take a while to do all that. And it can feel like a lot of work.
Some rooms come together effortlessly. Others do not and they require a lot of fussing around and trying out different layouts and furniture combinations.
For me, that’s a bit what revising a book after the first draft is like.
Some chapters come together quickly. The first draft is pretty close to how the chapter ends up in the final draft.
Other chapters are more labour intensive. I’ll realize that in the context of what’s going on in the book, a certain chapter will need a lot of work. The tone needs to change, or the details are all wrong depending on what comes later in the book.
Every chapter, or scene, requires a different amount of revising and polishing. And I’ve learned that when I bump into a chapter that needs a lot of heavy lifting, that it’s okay to be patient.
This week, I’ve been working on one chapter for several days. Last week, I breezed through revising several chapters in as many days. That’s just the way it goes.
I often liken writing a book to building a house. There are stages the creation, and the creator, goes through. And with either kind of project we do run into challenges and work slow-downs that need to be dealt with patiently. And the more patient I can be, the more beautiful and satisfying the end result.
I’m so pleased that this week I came up with this metaphor of adding furniture to a room. It perfectly encapsulates, for me, what the revising process for a novel is like.