My Novel: A 100,000 Word Jig-Saw Puzzle

I’m just about halfway through editing the manuscript of the first draft of my novel. I’ve written more extensively about my editing process before, but the long and short of it (for new readers or those who missed it before) is that I printed off the first draft and went through it for months with a pen and wrote myself notes, made corrections, crossed things out, drew arrows, and things of that nature. That was also my first true reading of the novel.

Now I’m taking that manuscript and reading it a second time, only now I’m doing it while writing the second draft. I went back to square one. I’m not editing in the document, I’m straight up re-typing everything. I’m glad I’m doing this because it’s helping me catch errors and I’m seeing where plot lines need to be developed. It’s tiresome at times, but I don’t let myself copy and paste anything from the original document. I don’t even open it up. Sometimes I’ll go through material that I didn’t mark in the manuscript, but as I’m retyping, I’ll think to myself that it still needs work and I’ll end up making changes. This is why I continue to love my editing process (which is good, since I’m the one using it). I’m always “getting it” just a little bit more. And by “it”, I mean that je ne sais quoi that comes with writing, which is so multi-faceted.

Going into my second draft, I was well aware that there was at least one chapter that needed to be moved somewhere else. I knew that it was more likely that I’d have to move two chapters. I’ve reached the point in my editing where I’ve started to move things, and I’ve been surprised at what I’ve discovered. First it was just chapter 5 that was out of place. Then, as I went along in the second draft, chapters 13, 14, and 15 didn’t really work well for me the way they were placed. I thought I could rearrange or something to make them more effective, so I started playing around with them. In doing so, it was necessary that I cut a little bit here and add a little bit there. When I looked at the clock again, a few hours had passed, but I’d figured out a way to change those chapters that I’d previously thought were fine. And now the flow in that part of the novel is so much smoother.

A few nights later, it started bothering me that my main character wasn’t introduced sooner. I had to get her in her own voice a little bit closer to the prologue. I played around a little more, and I think I’ve found a way to do that. It may not be a permanent fix (I’m pretty sure the reader can figure out, given the information in the prologue, who’s narrating, but I can’t be totally sure. That one might require some more tinkering), but right now, it at least gives me a better idea of what I want to happen at the beginning.

And none of this had occurred to me at all while writing or reading the first draft.

I can attribute my constantly-developing skills to a few things. I’ve been reading a lot about writing. I’ve been talking a lot more about writing with other writers. I’ve been thinking back to some of the things I learned in writing camp and as a writing minor. The biggest factor, though, is most likely that I’ve just been writing more. The practice has sharpened me up, undoubtedly. At least as far as fiction writing goes. I still feel terrible inadequacies and I often feel like all the writers I know probably think I’m a joke, etc., etc., but if I compare Writing Me now to Writing Me a year ago, I think that I can honestly say that I recognize the improvements. There have been many, and I’m so glad that I decided to get back into it.

Still, I really enjoy that I’ve been taking pieces of my story out and testing their fit elsewhere, like so many puzzle pieces. I suppose it’s a bit (or more than a bit, really) like Peter Elbow’s Cut-and-Paste Technique. I’m a big Peter Elbow fan. While I’m not physically cutting and pasting, I’m doing that much on the screen based on my own ability to sort of “re-imagine” when I’m looking at the paper copy. Doing this somehow makes me feel more legit. 2 legit 2 quit, in fact, like our dear friend MC Hammer. Yes, I just went there.

Something I’ve been paying particular attention to as I write the second draft is telling vs. showing. I know I have some chapters that are very heavy on the telling. I’ve been trying to change that, and I expect that, in time, I’ll have a better eye for that, as well. Still, I know that looking for too many problems at once is counter-productive because I’ll just end up overwhelming myself. Better to work on a few things at a time. I suppose this is why writers have several drafts of a novel, right? I suppose it’s also a good way to learn craft.

I really am delighted at my ability to see where change needs to be made because it indicates my growth as a writer. A year ago, I wasn’t sure that I could even get 50,000 words down in order to “win” NaNoWriMo. After that, I wasn’t sure if I could finish writing my novel so that the story was complete – I seriously doubted my ability to write endings. Now I’ve nearly doubled that winning word count, I’ve finished the first draft, and I’ve begun edits. A few posts ago, I talked about how I was concerned that I have no real passion for anything, but maybe writing has become my passion. I’ve been doing this for 11 months now. It feels weird if a day goes by and I don’t work on it. I think about it a lot, which is good because it keeps me from thinking about other things and dwelling on them until they swallow me whole. I look forward to writing and it’s been my saving grace on more than one occasion as I’ve worked through some tough times. I haven’t lost interest or given up like I do with so many things. I’ve kept practicing, and I’m seeing the results. I can do things that I couldn’t before (or didn’t think that I could). It doesn’t matter to me that practically no one will read this. This one is for me.

In addition to the skills I’ve gained and continue to gain as a writer, this experience has also helped me to be a better reader. I pay so much more attention to detail – especially as I read fiction – now. I’m looking at the authors’ techniques and asking myself why he or she chose to do something a certain way. I find myself wondering about what wasn’t said, and questioning why. For example, earlier today I was re-reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Are all of the professors at Hogwarts single? Is that an unspoken rule? Do none of them have families? If they did, where would those families have lived? How should faculty’s families be addressed, or should they not be addressed at all? Did I miss something major? I paid particular attention to this, maybe, because a similar question has come up in my story, and I’m still debating on how to best address it. Maybe it’s better left alone.

In the meantime, I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo ’10, and I’m pretty excited. I have this feeling, which I suppose is completely normal, that I won’t be able to do it again. The way I feel about how far I’ve come with my novel is very much like the way I felt when I looked back and realized that my dad wasn’t holding on to the seat of my bicycle anymore. I was actually riding all on my own. When I stopped, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it again. It’s sort of like my last blog post – I feel like it’s all a fluke. I know that it’s not, but sometimes it feels like it is. Regardless, I plan to write my way right through it.

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5 thoughts on “My Novel: A 100,000 Word Jig-Saw Puzzle

  1. OH MY GOD we just wrote the exact same post.
    Well, mostly. Ok, the part about writing making you a better reader, specifically, not the whole post. And you’re a lot more articulate about it.
    But I maintain my earlier position of OH MY GOD. Holy frigging Brain-twin.
    It IS amazing what a difference practice can make. I know that seems so obvious, but I think I needed to hear (read) someone else say/write it to actually realise that. I think I’ve been doing what you said and looking for too many problems at once, so I’m going to copy you and do different ‘passes’ focusing on different details and bits of style/technique/ what have you.

    Hooray writing! I don’t think I will NaNoWriMo this year, but I will be hosting my own NaNoEdMo, since I expect to be largely seasonally unemployed for November (booo urns!). Since I’m quite a few words short of a real novel and need to do tons of editing, I think the one month challenge thing should be fun. At least for this pass of this draft.
    Also, the 2 legit to quit made my week. Thank you for going there.

    • Haha! Holy brain twin, indeed! I’m glad I could make your week with the MC Hammer reference :) I really enjoy our exchanges on writing and reading. Ah, the powers of the internets! Haha.

      After I posted this, I started thinking (and it may develop into another post at some point) about how I so enjoy finding out what I’m capable of doing as a reader and writer that it’s quickly becoming the largest contributing factor to my intrinsic motivation. I think at this point, I’m much more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated. I’m also so glad that someone actually benefits from what I write because sometimes I feel like I’m writing to no one, haha. Either that, or my friends who are super serious writers are going to be like “Whatever, Renee. We’ve been doing that for YEARS. ::Yawn.:: Nothing new there.” I’m glad that you liked my editing idea to take it a few things at a time. It’s working well for me, so hopefully it works well for you, too!

  2. stopping by to see how the novel is progressing. i admire your editing stamina and think it’s awesome how much passion you have for this!! i think that your next book ought to be an autobiography, (you always have interesting email novels) i personally would enjoy reading about your life from the very beginning. ever thought about it?

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