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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Notes on a Revision

Living with a book in process is like living an alternative reality. You are out of time, it is a kind of transport, a kind of addiction.

 

A few weeks ago I finished the first draft of my new novel. This was BIG. For more than two years I’d stumbled through a string of false starts, and though I was trying to “trust the process,” some days that’s easier said than done.

Finally, finally, everything began to fall into place, and writing good prose felt effortless again. I also went back over the novel and story fragments I’d written in the meantime, and realized that it’s quality stuff after all–it just needs more time to marinate, the same way this idea needed two and a half years to make itself write-able.

As you know, I’m a big fan of Anne Lamott’s chapter on “shitty first drafts.” Just get it down, nobody but you is going to read it, you can fix it later. Along the homestretch the message on this postcard advertisement (for the Church Street Boxing Gym) became my mantra:

P1060971

Truth be told, I haven’t worked this hard in a long time–not since I pretty much made myself ill finishing the first draft of Petty Magic. I’m sniffling my way through this revision too, but this time the only deadline is the one I’ve set for myself, and I feel downright exuberant. People often say that writing a novel is a little like giving birth, but I wonder if the comparison is apt for a different reason–when the birth is over, you forget how much it hurt, right? I find myself reading over my draft unable to remember any of the rough days, those times when the complexity of what I was attempting sent me into the library stacks looking for somebody else’s novel to escape inside. If you don’t count the incubation period, this manuscript came together ridiculously quickly–300 pages in four months!–and reading it over feels a bit like walking through a dream. But of course, you have to count the incubation period. I couldn’t have written it so quickly back in 2009.


I love revising. I relish all this filling in the gaps, rejigging scenes, picking up the dropped threads, building timelines and calendars (so my characters aren’t aging backwards or talking of things that haven’t been introduced yet), and fact checking with TimeandDate.com, the Online Etymology Dictionary, and Dr. Google. Last week I spent a very enjoyable half hour in front of a microfilm machine reading the New York Times headlines from Sunday, November 28, 1915, and what I learned replaced a whole lot of XXXXXXXXXs in the manuscript.

It’s still a long way from perfect, but I’m getting there, in my gleeful nerdy way. And it feels really, really awesome.

6 Comments to Notes on a Revision

  1. May 21, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Camille, I could not be more proud of you. You are amazing and you inspire me every day.
    I especially love this line: “…those times when the complexity of what I was attempting sent me into the library stacks looking for somebody else’s novel to escape inside.” Seems as true for life as it is for writing first drafts, you know? Sometimes that’s what reading is all about.
    xo

  2. May 21, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I can’t wait to read it!!!! That’s all I can think when I hear you’re this close.

  3. May 21, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    “I relish all this filling in the gaps, rejigging scenes, picking up the dropped threads, building timelines and calendars (so my characters aren’t aging backwards or talking of things that haven’t been introduced yet?” Oh my God! THIS! Congratulations, Camille.
    While I always say I dread the revision stage, finding all these and recognizing them is oddly gratifying.
    Thank you so much for sharing so much with us! You inspire me everyday!

  4. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    May 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I love the comparison to forgetting the pain of birth.
    I’m excited to read the next Mealey D novel!

  5. May 26, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    My novel has been marinating for long enough. It’s time to do a revision that will be pitched for publication. I’m finally breaking the seal. Thank you for inspiring me!

  6. May 26, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Also, I’m blown away by your chinese fan, especially their closing remarks “blue fog malaria Chad left the human form of bondage, seems a bit frantic mannerisms, buttressed by strong winds in the house of the left and right sudden blew away the one place mess”. Just, so right on. 🙂

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.