Life with three young boys is never dull. More than the odd noises and strange smells that crop up every other minute or so, a house full of school-age kids easily becomes a sick bay every spring. This one is no different. I’m taking a break from the engrossing art of mixing up new concoctions of Gatorade flavors and my rewrites for novel #2 to offer a few thoughts on revision.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been immersed in revising my second novel, entitled Gloss. Based on the feedback of my agent and others, I’m giving it a thorough workover—a rewrite. And like everything else worthwhile in life, it’s tough work. Sitting with my laptop and a hefty dictionary and thesaurus propped on each side, I’ve been reworking it, literally word by word. Creating a resonant read with lingering characters and fresh words can only be achieved by liposuctioning the flab, as Sol Stein says in my favorite writing book, Stein on Writing. Actually, Mr. Stein dedicates a full chapter to revising fiction, giving the process a worthy title, Triage.
Since I blogged a few weeks ago about Writing and Finishing Your Novel in 2009, I’ll jot down a couple of the things that have hit me during this rewriting session, as rewrites naturally follow finishing your novel.
- “Unwillingness to revise usually signals an amateur,” Stein says. That said, revision is never easy. But … to improve as a writer, rework must happen.
- Working as if liposuctioning flab in a manuscript, fiction or non-fiction, involves removing the excess so that the resulting work is stronger. Sifting through adjectives and adverbs and eliminating the majority leaves a stronger product, including an improved pace.
- Marking and rewriting sections of narrative into direct action or dialogue can improve the pacing, as well.
In the same way that when I paint with oils on canvas, I keep working the paint until the image I see on canvas matches the image I see in my mind—colors, forms, texture, mood, everything. (One of my paintings, above.) Words, also, can be worked until the resulting piece matches what the writer sees inside.
So, yesterday, when I helped clean the floor beside our youngest son’s bookshelf and discovered in the heap of books an old favorite—The Three Little Pigs—I had a new thought. What if the first draft of a book is like the first little pig’s straw house, the second is like the wooden house, and the third could be compared to the third little pig’s brick house? Brick by brick, word by word, rewrite by rewrite, a stronger book is made. True, the brick house takes much more patience, perseverance, and hard work, but it also becomes something substantial, something that has a better chance at being a book that resonates, something that may last.
Revision is hard work. My hope is for the rework to produce a work that shines.