On Being All There, in Editing and in Writing

23 Jan

The clouds are low and purple-gray this morning, which for years has always been my favorite kind of day (improved upon only by hours and hours of heavy, lightning-free rain)(and a novel, a hot beverage, and sleeping cats).  It’s the perfect kind of Saturday morning to think about some of the lessons Project: Edit has taught me, so far, in my three days of reading/note-making/color-coding.

Things are going well, despite my mid-week setback.  I’m sixty-eight pages in (not far enough to be on schedule, but far enough to be making good progress), and my spiral notebook is bursting with thoughts and observations on what’s good, what’s not, and how things could work better.

One major thing that has occurred to me over and over again throughout the week is, as you can tell from the title of this post, the importance of being all there when you write, and also when you edit.

Though I haven’t gotten to read the last third of the book yet, the feeling I got while writing it still feels fresh in my head.  Whenever I wrote the last third, I’d sit down, put pen to paper, and dig in deep.  No, really: deeeeeep.  I’d dig in to my senses, my emotions; I’d close my eyes; I’d imagine myself being the characters, being in the situation, feeling what they feel and reacting like they would react.  Then, I wrote.  

I have a feeling that when I get to the scenes I wrote with that kind of passion, I’ll know it.

Right now?  It’s not that I wasn’t trying to get into the writing — it’s that I was thinking too much, trying too hard.  The story is there, and it’s unfolding, and there is feeling; it’s just that it’s all going by too fast.  In my attempts to be clear, to be spare and direct in my prose, with precisely the right words, I’ve quickened the pace so much that place and emotion and story are flying by faster than they should.  It’s a skeleton.  It’s choppy.  

Some of this, I think, can be blamed on how some scenes feel like they take longer when you write them, because you spend so much time figuring out the right way to write them.  Then, after hemming and hawing over it, you end up with a three-sentence paragraph that doesn’t set the scene at all, and abrupt transitions that could use a little more explanation.  

Plus, it’s easier to see the problem when it’s in tangible black and white; things look different on the printed page than they do on the screen.  Without seeing it from this perspective, I wasn’t aware of the problem, so I didn’t consciously try to fix it.

Though those may be valid contributors, I think the real issue is what I mentioned before: I wasn’t diving in with passion, every single time, ready to feel and think and work.  It is work.  Ideally, we could all feel ready to feel, every single time we sit down to write, but life happens, distractions happen, and these things take effort.  It’s not easy to put forth that kind of effort, every single time you sit down to write.  It’s tiring, and much easier to write the bare bones and tell yourself you’ll make it better later

Even in edits, I’m finding that I have the tendency to want to trust myself to just remember what I want to change about a scene, and how.  To counter this — because, logically, after 336 pages of just remembering, I (being human) will most likely not remember everything I want to — I’m disciplining myself to take complete notes, full of thoughts and ideas and, most importantly, specifics.  To write why I do/don’t like something, rather than just writing this is crap with my pretty red pen.

Later isn’t such a friendly word to me; it leaves me with lazy, lackluster writing, rather than something with passion and creative nuance and specific sensory details.  

I’m encouraged by what I’ve noticed this week, even though I’ve got some work to do to fix it.  There’s great potential with skeleton writing, but it’s the sort of potential a coloring book has before it’s filled in with crayons.  It’s not beautiful yet, but at least there’s structure, a clear picture.  And, I’m pleased to say, at the moment there are no erratic scribblings of neon green and burnt umber to ruin it.  That’s always a plus.

Have a great weekend, everyone!  May your days be rainy (unless you hate rain, in which case I mean, um, sunny), your coloring books be unscribbled, and your work be full of passion.

Revision Update, Phase One | 68 pages down, 268 to go | 20% finished

¹What I’m not saying (at least, not for the first/second draft): spend years on one tiny scene, make it perfect, then move on.  That = a recipe for never finishing.  What I am saying: give it your all whenever you sit down to write.  It probably won’t be perfect, but it definitely won’t be lazy.


7 Responses to “On Being All There, in Editing and in Writing”

  1. J.C Saturday / 23 January 10 at 2:38 pm #

    Being present and in your writing is really important, and something I try harder at on a revision that I do on a first draft I think. Often, because of the way I write (ie: very little planning and plotting done before hand) I don’t KNOW my characters that well until later in the novel/story, so the beginning always needs more work as I align the character I thought I had with the character I actually have (the one that emerges through the story and often likes to surprise me 😉 lol). On re-reading I can often find the point in the story at which I’ve really dived into it and started breathing the world/characters I’ve created.
    Good luck with the rest of the work!

    • owlandsparrow Saturday / 23 January 10 at 3:47 pm #

      Yes! Really good comment!

      Good point, about trying harder to be present in revision than on the first draft. I identify with that since that’s how I wrote my first draft, too. (I expected my second draft to read more like a revised copy than a draft, but considering it’s a re-write, I guess it’s natural that it falls somewhere in between!)

      I’d basically be copying your entire comment into mine if I reiterated all that I like about it, and identify with – so, I guess I’ll just leave it at that! 😉

  2. Linda Monday / 25 January 10 at 1:27 pm #

    Great points, Kayla. I found that my writing toward the middle of the book was “denser” and then I rushed toward the ending. So I needed to beef-up both the beginning and the end.

    • owlandsparrow Tuesday / 26 January 10 at 1:44 pm #

      Yes! I felt the tendency to rush the ending, too (which is why I specifically remember taking the effort to slow down and dig in while writing those last scenes, haha). It’s so interesting to see how things change over the course of a draft or two!

  3. islesam Tuesday / 26 January 10 at 11:30 am #

    I am thoroughly in awe of you as a writer. It’s fascinating to watch you grow through the entire process: the lessons learned, the methods practiced, the habits adopted. I can’t wait to catch a break in my hectic life and be able to really dig in & do the same.

    & I am still waiting on some info about the book. Ahem.

    • owlandsparrow Tuesday / 26 January 10 at 1:48 pm #

      *Blushing Kayla* Thanks, Melissa. 🙂 I definitely feel like I’m growing – and it’s so nice to share the experience with awesome people like you. I’m just fascinated by the writing process itself, and how it works differently for everyone – it’s fun to figure out what works for me. Thanks for the encouragement, and I’m SO looking forward to you getting to do the same, too!

      Hmmm, I’ll have to do something about that. Perhaps even today.


  1. Yellow Rainboots « Owl and Sparrow - Monday / 8 February 10

    […] plots and sub-plots are woven pretty well, and I haven’t seen too many loose ends just yet.  As suspected, the scenes are getting better as I read – they aren’t as skeletal as they were toward […]

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