After going through the printed manuscript of the first draft of The Stick Princess scene by scene, marking it up viciously, making a detailed summary, and writing down all the notes for changes I needed to make, I sat down a couple of weeks ago and started re-typing the whole thing.
Of course, now I’m not looking at all at my detailed summary, my notes, or my marks on the manuscript. Though I’m keeping chunks of description and dialogue here and there, I’m basically composing a new book based on all the same scenes in the first draft. It’s a very similar book, mind you. But I have a much better idea of how the divided protagonist works and how all the subplots intertwine, and I have of course jettisoned most of the backstory, as one does.
I first learned to type on a great big manual typewriter whose carriage return had a huge lever on it and whose keys had to be pressed with equal emphasis. Words set down with something like that were like carved in stone. There were typewriter erasers, but they ravaged the paper. You had better know what you wanted to say before you set it down.
I discovered word processing in the late 70s, and immediately took to its volatile, interactive, fluid possibilities, to its ability to move from the inside to the outside of a story, to write backwards and forwards, to leap about and move the furniture of plot.
But there’s no substitute for retyping a draft completely, getting rid of the shadows of former ideas, erasing the trails that petered out., and dumping the wishful thinking and loose verbiage.
I try to get to a good stopping point where I can quit writing and go to bed thinking about the next problem. For instance: What are those pills she’s required to take, and why did I have her taking them all through the book? Why has she been put in the little hut in the clearing in the woods, and how does she get out? How can I show that she is indeed acting independently and at the same time being herded along by three different factions? Why is Chloe important to the story and when I can I reintroduce her? Am I saying “But this is not that story” too often? And how improbable is the scene with the tractor?
I go to bed with things like that revolving in my head, and then I decide to stop thinking about them.
In the morning, after the coffee and other waking-up routines, I sit down at my keyboard and suddenly the answer to the latest question is obvious, as if I had dreamed it.
And of course by the end of an hour of writing I’ve solved it in a different way than I thought I was going to.
I used to tell myself stories when I was a kid, all day long, when I was supposed to be paying attention in math or English or science, when I was walking or biking to school, when I was sitting at the dinner table itching to be away, or when I was in the car. I lived in those stories. I told myself certain scenes over and over in different ways, sometimes smiling into the air when I found a particularly compelling way to tell it. I wasn’t the protagonist in my stories. My protagonist was an elf, a young warrior, a winged servant, or a character from one of my favorite TV shows.
Revision is like that story-telling I did in those days. It’s sort of like being half in this world, and half in the story. The food in real life gets cooked, the walks are taken in an actual world, and work gets done for pay, but in the spaces between, I’m re-telling the story.
So. Revision. In progress. Once I’m done, I’ll print it out again. The weather will be a little warmer then, so I’ll take the manuscript outside and read it aloud to myself, which always catches the last slew of mistakes.
And then I’ll format it, and publish it. And turn to the next draft manuscript. My goal is finish them all, that entire drawer.
I don’t write for the money. That’s just a surprise present.
Last month I made $17.02 selling my books on Kindle. My whole body tingled when I saw the entries in my bank account, and then my eyes misted over, and I kept thinking about it for hours, but that’s not why I write.
I write so I can retell the stories.