Some of you might have noticed I haven’t been blogging (or reviewing!) that much in the last couple of weeks. I have a really good excuse: I’m in the middle of a massive writing project, and starting to test the waters of finding an agent a bit.
And that is proving more tedious than I would care to admit.
You see, I’m a descriptive writer who tends to like indulging in epic plots, which means my novels tend to be long. I wondered about that but didn’t give it much thought until I found out that publishers tend to resist printing new authors with books over 100,000 words. I understand their reasoning. It’s solid: too many pages, they have to sell too many units to make a profit. And considering there’s not more than one J.K. Rowling in a billion authors, they have to watch their funding, particularly in a bad economy like ours.
(I’m not just saying that because I like Rowling. Her writing is excellent. Name it, and she has it: awesome characters, a suspenseful plot, gradual revelation of important information, and tight prose. Sure, she makes mistakes: the Grawp chapters were boring and the final confrontation is a bit theatrical, but considering her massive accomplishments, who cares?)
This means I’m going to have to do extensive revision on my current project(s). In some sense, that makes me want to shut myself up in a cupboard and stay there with a bowl of ice cream, but in another, it is a challenge and there are few things I enjoy in life more than work. I can be a brutal editor. I know how to trim fat. And I am harder on my own manuscripts than everyone else’s (if I’ve trimmed yours, don’t feel bad… I do it to everyone). The problem is, I tend to write a lot of fat. (In the future, I’ll be more careful about that.) But I also know that no matter how “gorgeous” my writing, things can always be cut out: scenes that don’t further the plot, chapters that meander, stating the obvious, etc.
That’s part of being a writer. Writing is less about early ideas and more about revision.
On occasion, I get told off for being so “hard” on things, but the plain fact of the matter is this: my time is important and I don’t want it to go to waste with mundane drek. You know why Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera is so good? Because it started out with a great idea and went through a ton of revision. Watch the behind-the-scenes special on the film version and you’ll discover that half the lyrics changed from that first draft ALW put on for his guests one summer. You know why the sequel Love Never Dies sucks? Not only is the plot stupid and all the characters nothing like themselves, it hasn’t had enough revision. (I’ve seen the revised version and it’s better, but it is still bad.)
Books had to go through an extensive revision and editing process just to catch the attention of a publisher. Sure, there are some bad books, but a lot of them aren’t bad, just not to my taste or interest. On the other hand, there’s a lot of bad movies and a lot of bad television out there, and since I am so focused on what needs revision, I notice when stuff gets rushed. This is why, although I loved the first season of Downton Abbey and its cracking good writing, I was disappointed in the second season. Why? It felt like Julian Fellowes was working off a first draft rather than revision. You cannot tell me that some of the plots that went nowhere would not have been cut in revision. That characters behaving totally unlike their previous selves could not have been fixed when a critical eye realized “oh, this doesn’t work for Lord Grantham.” That the rampant clichés that flooded the second season (the oh-so-evil Vera, the lord of the manor falling for the maid, the all-too-convenient death of a character “in the way” of True Love) could not have been exorcised.
Yes, I enjoyed the second season of Downton Abbey, but it is not going to win a bunch of awards like the first season did, because the writing isn’t nearly as good. It’s “fine,” but it isn’t “great.” No matter how successful you become, or famous you get, you still need revision. J.K. Rowling needed a bit more in her final books. Stephanie Meyer certainly needed it in Breaking Dawn. And Julian Fellowes needs to revise and revise and revise, if he wants season three to be as stellar as season one was.
Revision is hard, and it’s tiresome, and it’s brutal, but it has to be done, because at the end of the day, despite profit and deadlines, we should always do our best. And our first draft is never our best. Our second draft isn’t even our best. But somewhere in-between ripping our hair out and swearing never to write anything ever again, it will become our best. And that’s when it is time to share it with the world.
PS: If you haven’t bought the 25th anniversary release of Phantom yet, do. It is worth every penny and makes the movie look like drek in comparison.