“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.”
So slowly I go. Word count down to 179k (from 200k+). Simplifying, clarifying. Altering archs, modifying premise, tweaking plot. All sorts of change. This effort will be the final swipe at this story. When it goes back up online, it will live in that form forever. A first novel is a first novel and I’m willing to let it be that, after I do this final round of revision. The lessons learned from it are substantial and I will move forward to the next one with them in mind.
Writing a novel is to have a pendulum in motion, a measurement of action and inaction, where writing and reflection have their place in the process. This pendulum is particular, however, in the case of novel building. Writing and reflection are not always equal parts, arrived at in perfect and predictable timing. The pendulum arm can dally in one stroke or the other, creating long spells of intense writing that are devoid of much reflection or conversely, periods of reflection so long and necessary that one can forget their goals – forget their vision. I can only say that I’ve felt the pendulum and that it still swings.
It’s a Saturday morning in June in Northern California. A brief hot spell has generously given way to the gorgeous, low 70’s blue sky I see outside my window. The lawn is drinking the water I set out after mowing it this morning. It’s 9:20am.
Before me rests the 225,000 word manuscript that is System Seven. Pandora radio is streaming my ambient station. Haunting flutes, deep congo drums, and synthesizers paint tension and drama on the canvas of the family room where I write. A tall glass of iced water sits within reach. I’m settled, ready to be the writer.
In revision, which is where I’m at now with the script, every paragraph, every sentence is subject to the prodding and testing necessary to achieve a few things: a.) plot accuracy, b.) story continuity, c.) relevancy, and d.) brevity. Since I’m revising certain premises, the testing for A and B are all important, literally like heart surgery for the story. C and D are also important for the overall health of the script and to improve readability.
What revision feels like varies from moment to moment, hour to hour, etc. The tides of this human’s emotions tend to rise and fall and my desire to finish this script is the boat and oars of the revision process. There are moments when I almost literally crash into the words of a sentence, like hitting a wall, and my resolve shatters, the imagery breaks apart, and I’m left staring at a field of pixels on an advanced Lite Brite screen. My inner self gets out of the chair and walks away. So I step back, take a breath, look at the paragraph, reposition myself in the story, re-ignite the fire of imagination, light the scene, and begin prodding and testing again. It is like digging a ditch.
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