Weekly Musing: Chaotic Mess

Oh, what a difference a month makes. I have completed the first month of the initial revision round on my historical fiction novel and it has gone a lot differently than I had envisioned. Physically my working space is a mess with papers, folders, and pens strewn about. From a creative standpoint things are also a giant mess. I had no idea just how much I would still be changing my mind. More than once I’ve altered where the story opens. I also decided to replace some character names because I wasn’t honestly never fully on board with the original names I straddled them with.

Issues I knew I’d have to deal with I finally got to and it wasn’t pretty. Most were research related and I got those nailed down. I hope anyway. As I noted above, I have this tendency to change my mind. Fingers cross I’ll let these thing stand for a while. The problem with me and research is not only do I get sucked into a black hole, which I usually enjoy, is I spend probably far too much time double, triple, and quadruple-checking facts.

In the back of my mind I am paranoid should this book get published, if I have even one thing wrong, even if it is something small, I will get blasted for inaccuracy. This is a product of observing and participating in various online discussions. It fatigues and frustrates me to point out nothing will be 100% accurate, especially in fiction. While I’m not the lone voice in this, it still bothers me trying to reason with idiots. Explaining authors can only do the best they can with the information they have falls on deaf ears.

While I can defend and understand what other authors do, it is problematic for me to apply the logic to my own work. I have to be vigilant in telling myself I am in the beginning stages of revision and that I have never revised a novel before. Techniques I apply to short stories have worked but I am also discovering my strategy must be different.

Nothing will be perfect yet I’ve already redone the beginning at least two times and will tackle it a third time before throwing in the towel to move onto the middle. I have re-arranged and re-re-arranged chapters, deleted others, switched chunks of a scene to either earlier or later in the book and even noted scenes I think would be better switched to the other character’s POV. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to condense basic information into a quick, easy-to-read file so I don’t have to keep flipping back to Scrivener.

I have learned that while I may be a naturally organized person with a brain that thrives best on compartmentalization, the other part of my brain, the one which controls creativity, apparently likes the chaos. Perhaps it’s the thrill of creating a giant mess and then working to put it back together into something better. I’m not very nice to myself.

But this chaos vexes me. I’d hoped to be a further ahead on my rewrite; not still stuck at the beginning. Looking ahead to August, it’s going to be a busy month personally. I ponder how much time I will while making sure I pace myself so I don’t fry my creativity. Yet this makes me feel as if I’m pushing myself more and more behind. While I have likened this to an extreme marathon, this first month has me feeling as if I haven’t even gotten off the starting line.


Weekly Musing: It. Has. Begun!

At the end of February I finished the initial draft of the historical fiction novel I’ve been researching for years. I’ve taken the last few months off away from it so it can sit and because I was mentally exhausted. During these last 4 months I worked on other stuff; mainly new short stories, jotting down new ideas, and accidentally starting another novel.

My self-imposed deadline to begin the revision process was July 1st. Well, as July 1st got closer, the more anxious I became. Excited, some, yes, but anxious because I know there is so much wrong with it. It is going to be an overwhelming amount of work just to get it to a coherent point.

Another cause for my anxiety was this is also going to be the first time I’ve tried revising a novel. Since I’ve never really revised a novel, I wasn’t sure where to start. On and off over the past 4 months I have thought about this process. Where to start? How long will this take me? And more than once, is this even worth it?

I chewed over the last question the most because the story is set during a little known rebellion that ultimately failed and how the ebb and flow of that rebellion is mirrored in the relationship between the two main characters. Because it’s not set in a popular time period or place I am concerned about if it is even worth revising since I suspect it will be a hard sell. Ultimately I realized that I need to continue the work on it. If I don’t I will regret it and even if I can’t get it traditionally published or decide to not even self-publish it, then I do need the practice on how to revise a novel.

Once that dilemma was decided, I focused more on trying to figure out what my process is for revising a novel. Writing is such a highly individualized sport that no matter how many books, articles, and interviews I read about revising, it still comes down to figuring out what works for me. I knew I simply couldn’t approach it as I would a short story due to my process for writing a short story is different from writing a novel. Thankfully I’m not under any kind of deadline so I can take my time.

The easiest part of the process was the day I printed out the manuscript. Apologies to the tree I probably killed to do it but hey, at least I recycle the paper. Since I hadn’t written it in order this meant I would have to cobble together in order the story. Messy but it’s how my brain works when drafting a novel.

Below is a picture of what it looked like when I put the book in order.

Organizing part 1
All laid out

Good thing I have a large expanse of floor space to lay things out. Since I need to visualize and touch things, I spent a couple of days staring at the finished product including reviewing scenes I was throwing out as well as noting scenes which still needed to be written.

What I happily discovered was by laying out the whole novel like I did was seeing each character’s presence in the story. It was also nice seeing the story falls into the classic 3 act structure.

Another problem I had to contend with was since I have two main characters who’s stories start off in different locations until they finally merge into one, how in the hell was I planning on ordering the story? Good for me I had written scenes down onto notecards with dates I worked on each scene. I connected the scenes together, dividing them into beginning, middle, and end. To solve the two main character question I further divided things by designating one column for each character and ordered things accordingly.

Compiling this proper like
Compiling this proper like

Essentially I’m revising two novels which will be combined in the next round of revision. At this point, this makes sense to me and I think will allow me to completely immerse myself into each character’s mind and world.

Next came the very scary step of actually starting the revision stage. Below is a picture of what I’m referring to as my command center: the dining room table. While I have separate desks for my computer and physical writing, neither are big enough for me to spread out. Since I’ll be fact checking and doing additional research during this phase, I need my computer nearby. And who honestly uses their dining room table? We certainly don’t very often.

The bridge
The bridge

As of this writing, I’ve revised the opening chapter which took a lot longer than I anticipated. In the months ahead I know more research will be done, scenes will be added and deleted. The least of my concerns is the harder examination of the prose itself. Yes, I’m trying to rewrite some of the crap I threw down on paper but once I have my facts straightened out, I can relax and focus on that.

What I’ve been telling myself during this process is to keep in mind to take it word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page, chapter by chapter. This isn’t a sprint or even a marathon but an extreme marathon.