So I know that it’s craft month here at WU, and thus, I’m going to discuss craft, but part of me shudders at the thought of opining on the subject because, well, I’ll be honest, four books into this shindig, and I’m still not sure that I’m one to be giving advice on craft! Why? Because I know – 100% that my pantsing methods – absolutely won’t work for everyone, and in fact, sometimes don’t even work for me. What I mean by that is that there inevitably comes a point in my writing process when I want to bang my head against the wall and wish that I were an outliner, that I didn’t have to struggle through the difficult process of letting my characters take the lead rather than figuring it out in advance. But I know that outlining also wouldn’t work for me, so I stick to what I know, and what ultimately produces the best book, as frustrating as it might be at times.
But one aspect of craft that I DO feel well-versed in is the revision process. Because I AM a pantser, I think the real work of crafting my books, of taking them from good to (ideally) great, comes in the second round of writing, not the first. With the first draft, I’m so busy figuring out what happens next that I sometimes (okay, often) don’t realize where I’ve veered off-course. And, let’s be honest, it’s also often not until the last third of the book that I realize what exactly the entire book is about. So it’s in the second draft (and third and fourth), where I really roll up my sleeves and start shaping the book.
This was never more true than with my novel, The One That I Want, which was just released last week. (Shameless plug: um, feel free to pick up a copy now!) This book went through six or seven different incarnations, partially because I struggled to pinpoint my protagonist’s voice but partially because the craft of writing this book was excruciating. It’s the story of Tilly Farmer who is given the ability to see into the future…but…here was the problem: as the writer, I didn’t know what her future would hold because (drumroll), I hadn’t written that part of the book yet! So I drafted and redrafted, each time getting closer, but never fully getting it right. Finally, on the sixth draft, I hit upon it: her voice, my connection to her voice, what the future held for her, and how I could write that honestly and organically.
Needless to say, it wasn’t easy. But – and this is a big but that I think some aspiring writers don’t want to see – it SHOULDN’T necessarily be! I’d argue that revising is as important, if not MORE important, to your overall process of crafting a strong book than the initial draft. Revising is the time that you cut out exposition (puts readers to sleep), axe scenes that don’t forward the action/plot (drags down the actual action), change things that aren’t working, and add in new characters who invigorate your pages. One of my main – and most important characters – in The One wasn’t even in my initial draft! I can’t even contemplate the book without her now, so thank goodness that I was open to taking the book apart, adding in what needed to be added, erasing all the unnecessary elements. This character, Ashley, took the book to an entirely different place – a much better place, and set the book off in a totally different direction.
So that’s what craft is to me. It’s starting with your skeleton, and being willing to smash it and piece it back together. Revising isn’t as glamorous as writing the first draft, and to be honest, it’s probably less fulfilling on some sort of emotional level, that one that is so gratifying when you reach the last page. But of all the things you do for your book, I’d argue that it’s the most important. Don’t neglect it, even when – and I speak from experience – that sixth draft feels like it might kill you.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Roberto Verzo