“The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust.
When revising, it’s easy to get locked into a particular mindset. After working mega hours to finish a novel, it’s only natural to see everything in the same way. After all, you have carefully crafted the scenes and plot points, not to mention the killer ending. BUT, in all of the focus and determination, there are usually things that have been missed. Maybe a logistical issue was overlooked. Maybe you need to raise the stakes yet again at that third plot point. Sometimes it takes new eyes and a new approach to strengthen the manuscript.
Every successful author and writing coach will recommend giving the manuscript a break before facing revisions. It makes sense, and it important, but there is work to be done during that break.
Read. Read. Read. Everything. Anything. Read nonfiction. I’m not a Stephen King fan but I love what he has to say about the writing process in his book On Writing. Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird is another favourite if it’s writing inspiration is what I’m after. I also like to dive into biographies and autobiographies of interesting people, especially writers, like Margaret Lawrence.
Fiction. Read everything you can find written in your genre. Read outside your genre. Read the Masters. What makes a story exciting and the characters compelling?
By the time you go back to your manuscript, you’ll recognize those areas that need strengthening. Furthermore, you’ll have a good idea how to do it. When this happens, I’m always amazed that I didn’t notice how weak a scene was the first time around. Sometimes I find scenes that don’t need to be included at all because they add a lot of nothing and drag down the pace.
At the moment, I’m reading Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish for my adult pick. It’s an intriguing and well-written novel about two extraordinary women: one in the seventeenth century and one in the twenty-first century. Hopefully I’m up to the weight of the ink in this book. It’s over 500 pages! My kid pick is the crazy fantasy, Dogsbody, by the wonderful Diana Wynne Jones.
Practice. Practice. Practice. I used to think that when authors talked about how many words they wrote in a day, or how many hours they wrote in a day, that they were talking about the entire writing/publishing process. They weren’t. I thought that this included revising and editing and polishing. It doesn’t. Revising is not writing. Editing is not writing. If you want the ideas to continue to flow and for the Muse to stick around full time, you have to keep up the actual writing. At the moment, I have a notebook in which I’m writing some scenes and some ideas I have for an adult novel.
This is where writing prompts and writing exercises come in handy. Keep up your daily free-writing (stream-of-consciousness writing.) If you’re working on a novel, try your hand at writing a short story or some flash fiction. It all helps to keep your writer-brain sharp. And you might even come across a good idea for another project.
Last November I decided to take a break from my manuscript and participate in NaNoWriMo. I didn’t make it to 50,000 words but I came pretty close and I completed a big chunk of the first draft of what could be a series.
Writing a novel is a huge project. For me, it is inspiring if I have a couple of other projects on the go at the same time. It makes me feel like I have more to show for the hours I spend at my computer, typing away!
Wherever you’re at in your creative project, I hope you discover something new! Check back tomorrow for some Practice ideas!