“Remember, it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers.” E.B. White
I recently completed a first draft of my new novel. I let it sit for a bit, but now I’m back up to my elbows in revisions. This is a particularly depressing time for me since all the joy of finishing the draft is gone, and all the misery of the adding, deleting, researching, reworking, toning down, amping up, picking apart, and piecing together has begun. Revising is at once tedious and broad, small and large, rewarding and punishing, but always essential. The hardest part of revisions is knowing when to stop. And even when you know when to stop and the book is in print, there are still things you wish you could change.
I know this isn’t exclusively my problem. When I saw Tracy Chevalier speak about her latest novel, Remarkable Creatures, she said that there was a clunky metaphor in Girl With a Pearl Earring that she hates. In my first book, Receive Me Falling, I have a flashback of my main character’s family planting sea oats at their beach house. I used it to show their closeness, but to this day, I hate the scene and wish I’d used something else to show their relationship.
Writers often like to use the metaphor of the birthing process with their work. I always avoid this–for one, I’ve never broken my tail bone writing a book, and two, writing a book isn’t nearly as messy as childbirth. I prefer to use the analogy of the body when I’m writing. With this draft I have a skeleton with some tendons. Maybe I have an eyeball or thin layer of muscle at various places, but no more. With each revision or critique another layer gets added until finally, there’s a whole body. Once I’ve got the body complete, it’s ready for the query process. (Okay, that was a little gruesome to imagine, but much nicer than pushing out a baby.)
The good news is that, always, as I’m about to throw the manuscript across the room and abandon writing forever, I find a little section that makes me lose myself for a moment and say, “Yes, that’s right.” These moments sustain me and keep me going. Finding these little hunks of diamonds amidst the coal fuel the pursuit. I’ve never suffered addiction, but I imagine the gems are like highs. Perhaps that’s why so many writers have problems with addiction. But I digress…
Tell me–if you’re a writer is there anything you’ve published that you wish you could change or take back? Also, what gets you through revision? If you’re a reader, do you know of any other writers who’ve lamented something they’ve published?