Bree asked: Say you are midway through your first draft when you realize that a major story element needs to be changed. You could keep writing until the draft is finished and then change things in the second draft. Or you could stop, back up and rewrite what you have so far. What do you do? Why do you make that choice?
For me there’s only one way to go. Stop. Revise. Then continue.
Why? Because it’s only after story is put into the hands of our characters throughout the actual writing process—not the imagined writing process—that the story progresses authentically.
Let me beef that idea up a bit.
Major story elements are foundational; they are the goals, motivations, conflicts, and turning points that lie at the heart of our work and propel it forward. Some people might be able to make a note on a major story change and keep going (e.g. “Hero has actually been with the party all along and not alone in Minnetonka. Revise later.”), but I’ve found time and again that the story won’t unfold properly until and unless it’s written. Really written. This is because characters and story often evolve past a concept or plot point in a way I didn’t anticipate, and that changes what will follow in the manuscript.
For example, maybe a character tells me they’re not going to act like X; they’re going straight for Y. Maybe they tell me fine, they’ll act like X but they’re going to have to say something about Z, which isn’t something I wanted them to address for another two chapters, but I realize if I muzzle them I disrespect that character’s personality. Maybe a secret is revealed—to me, the writer—that changes the way I view the character, or the way the characters respond to one another in future scenes.
I won’t know until I write it.
All that said, I absolutely will leave myself a note (or two hundred) about small-scale story adjustments to consider as I work through a draft. Making every one of those changes as I progress would be crazy making–especially since I’ll change my mind about at least half of them by the time I reach The End.
Allison asked: How do you learn to ‘hold your horses’ and adjust to how long it takes from writing a MS to seeing it in book form? How do we, in other words, ‘mind the gap’ between the time we’d LIKE it to take, and how long it actually takes?
(Ray and I both tackled this question, with slightly different angles.)
The time it takes between beginning a manuscript, writing those first words, and seeing it in print can feel like an eternity. If I’d known, back in 2002, that it would be seven years before I’d see The Last Will of Moira Leahy in print—and that I’d completely rewrite the story one-and-a-half times—I might very well have quit. We all know it takes time to write a quality draft. It takes time to revise that draft. It takes time to edit it until it’s smooth and silky.
But I think you might be asking about the gap of time between finishing a story, turning it in to an editor, and then seeing it appear in book form. What can help here is understanding the myriad steps involved in creating a book that are entirely out of the author’s control.
First, your story is one of many sitting on an editor’s desk. Your editor needs time to read your story, process it, read your revisions, make other suggestions. The in-house marketing and publicity teams need time to understand what your book is about in order to formulate the best approach for reaching out to others, like reviewers, booksellers, and magazine editors. The art department requires time to digest the scope and themes of your book, and to create several compelling cover ideas.
In the meanwhile, the author needs to be a contributing member of the publication team. He/she will need to respond when the editor has questions or asks for revisions, when the copy editor makes notes and requires clarifications, and when the marketing and publicity departments ask for information about the book and you–its author–so that they can best do their job.
Lots of people are involved in making a book, and I think if you take it all in—the big wide world of creating a work of words that is saleable, and not just creating words on loose sheets of paper that you can print out at home and hand to your sister—everything comes into better focus.
As for that gap, once you have an appreciation for it—why it’s there, necessary, how it helps you and your book in the long run—you can fill it with worthwhile ventures. Build your website. Get to know your local booksellers and other authors in your area. Take a set of professional author photos. Establish your presence on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Learn what you can about the industry with great books like Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees.
Readers, how would you have responded to Bree and Allison? (And psst, the next time you hear from me here, hopefully I’ll have finished MY draft. I am the slowest and broodiest writer in the universe, I swear it.)
Photos courtesy Flickr’s