Tag Archives: revising

The Howling

I have that buzz in my veins. That excited, almost anxious fizzing in my blood that comes when I am closing in on the end of a draft. The howling of words that are scratching and clawing and trying to get out and onto the page. It makes it hard to focus on other things (like work, conversations with actual people, etc.) because everything in me just wants to be writing and writing and writing until I’ve finished. I start to resent anything and everything that takes me away from writing.

It’s a good feeling. A frustrating, exciting, energizing feeling. A good one.

I’m forgetful. I leave things behind. I walk into rooms and can’t remember what I went into them for. I can’t always hear the daily thoughts I need to function over the howling of the words in my ear. It’s a miracle I show up anywhere on time, given that while my body might be here, now, in the present, my head is in Rome circa the late 1490s.

Once the draft is finished, once I get all the words out of me and onto the page, the howling will quiet. It will fade away for a time as I finish my research and start to make revision notes and get feedback from my agent and critique partners. Then it will start up again: the sound of the words, now they are on the page, clamoring to be polished, to be gilded, to be made to sing where before they only howled.

All of us writers must hear this, the calling of the words to be put down and placed in a certain order and made to shine. That must be why we write, in answer to this siren song. The urge to tell a story, even when it’s not perfect, because it’s bubbled up within us to the point where we can’t not tell it anymore. And then the clamor continues, urging us to, now that we’ve told the story, to tell it well. Because if we don’t, then haven’t we wasted our chance to tell this story? Because if we don’t, who will?

As I write this, I’m about 96,000 words into my current work-in-progress. If I had to make an estimate, I would say that this one will end up at around 120,000 at this point. (It will probably get longer in revision). That’s still a bit of a ways to go, but I’ve got that downhill momentum going. I’m in the last third, and I’ve started rolling.

It doesn’t feel like this book has gone as fast as it has. It’s been a difficult one for many reasons. And while the buzzing, the fizzing, the howling is always the same, it always happens for me at this point in every first draft of everything, this time I think it does feel a little different, because of the challenges I’ve faced. The ones I am still facing. Because of the desire to just be able to say that “It’s done”, so I can go about fixing it. So that I can begin to imagine what it may finally look like. So that I can begin to imagine what it would be like to achieve what I meant to with this book.

I can’t quite imagine it yet. But soon. Because beneath the howling is a whisper that maybe I can do what I set out to do after all. The first draft is only the first step, but perhaps the biggest one. And so the howls and whispers alike prod me on.



First Pass Pages and All the Feels

A couple days ago I finished reading through my first pass pages for The Violinist of Venice and sent them back to my editor. First pass pages are when you receive a hard copy of the manuscript that has been typeset and formatted how it will look in the actual book. Therefore this was the first time that Violinist looked like a real book, and so that was a pretty big moment in and of itself.

The point of the pass pages is for the author to go through the book again and make any small changes that still need to be made, correct anything that may have been missed in copy edits, etc. So I spent quite a while reading through the entire manuscript (it took me some time, it being a very long book). But really, I loved the experience. I haven’t simply sat down and read through the whole thing – just read it as a reader, without an eye to making changes or cutting things or revising – in over a year, since right before I began querying agents. For the first time, I was really able to read it as though it were a book, a for-all-intents-and-purposes finished piece of work, and not a work-in-progress.

It was very cool. I felt like I finally had enough distance, enough objectivity, to really see that it is a good book, that I really did pull it off and write something good. It’s strange how easy it is to lose sight of that more often than not. We writers are our own harshest critics, and so we don’t always give ourselves the credit we maybe deserve.

I tweeted some of my thoughts as I was reading, using the hashtag #ViolinistofVenice, so feel free to check that out, if you are so inclined.

I got emotional as I was reading the story, at all the right parts where I want readers to get emotional, and even with my new-found distance I couldn’t really tell if that was a genuine reaction to the text, or if it was just because this book is my baby. I’ll never be able to completely objective about it, I know. But just as there’s a moment in the book when my main character, Adriana, realizes that the music she writes really does and can mean something to other people, I realized that maybe my words could too.

Another big part of my emotional reaction to reading the pages – especially on the last day, when I finished reading and got ready to send it back to my publisher – was my realization that this was the very last time the book would be just mine, and mine alone. Soon ARCs will be printed and will be sent out into the world, for bloggers and reviewers and readers, and then the book and the story and the characters aren’t just mine anymore. That day was the last time it was just me and those words, sitting with each other at my desk. And though of course I want the book to go out into the world, am excited and proud and happy and nervous and anxious about it, it was a big deal to sort of acknowledge and be aware of that moment, and to cherish it.

My baby book is all grown up now.

That One Damn Scene

I’m deep into revisions right now for my second book. As you may remember from a previous post, I finished the first draft at the beginning of April, and am now working on the second draft, after having received feedback and suggestions from both my agent and my number one critique partner. I also let it sit for about a month and a half before returning to it – during which time I went to Italy to do some research 🙂 More info about that, and about the book itself, coming soon…

A month is my minimum amount of time that I let a draft sit before returning to it. Longer is better, if possible. For one thing, I know that after finishing a draft of a manuscript, I absolutely need some time to recharge, when I’m not writing or revising anything, but just restoring the creative juices. For another, I need as much distance from the manuscript as possible to help me come back to it with the fresh eyes that every writer knows are essential for revisions.

Just like the first draft, though, the second draft of this one started out very slowly. It was obstinate and difficult and was fighting with me again. I couldn’t figure out why – hadn’t I fought through this already the first time around? And hadn’t I conquered it?

Perhaps it was just the ghosts of my frustration and discouragement from the first draft coming back to haunt me. But I pushed through it, like you do, and things began picking up again.

Until, of course, I got to That One Damn Scene.

You know, that one scene that gives you trouble in every draft, that takes you forever to get through, that is just a continual struggle. I experienced this to a lesser extent with Violinist. There’s a scene where Adriana is taken to the opera by her suitor that is a) a long chapter, b) important to establishing both their relationship and later conflicts between characters, and c) did I mention long? There’s a lot of description in it, as well. Anyway, I always had to somewhat brace myself for every trip through that chapter, as it just always took forever and seemed like a whole thing. (Fun fact: it is maybe the only scene in the book that remains more or less intact, in terms of what actually happens, from the first draft. And that, my friends, is a hard and unpalatable truth about writing novels).

Yet with book two, That One Damn Scene is a beast of a completely different stripe. It took me forever to initially draft it – months, to be specific. As in, I stopped midway through that scene, wrote another, completely different book, and then came back to it.

And it took me forever to get through it in the second draft, as well.

But why? The best I can figure is that this scene is pretty important, and sets up essentially everything that hasn’t already been set up in the preceding pages. It introduces the rest of the cast of characters, as well as the most important character besides my main character/narrator. They meet for the first time in this scene. It also introduces a place/setting where much of the rest of the book will take place. It’s also a place that I visited while in Florence, and as such part of my task during revisions was to re-describe it based on what I saw while I was there.

So it made sense to take my time writing it initially, and to go through it slowly again in revision. And A LOT about this scene has changed in revision – specifically, I added a lot. About two thousand words, to be exact. Again, most of this was based on the new knowledge I gained after my trip to Italy, and some of it was fixing issues from the first draft – in other words, the whole purpose of a second draft.

And I didn’t even leave it to write another book this time – HAHA. No, really, I didn’t.

Anyway, that scene has now officially earned the title of That One Damn Scene. I now have very superstitious feelings towards this scene. I expect it to always fight with me, and to always take forever to get through, in every incarnation.

And maybe it should. Like I said, it’s an important scene.

So what about all of you? Has anyone else run into That One Damn Scene in most, if not all, of your manuscripts?