Long time, no blog. Sorry, y'all. I got a little distracted with the apocalypse. This is pretty much me all the time now:
But in the midst to the world falling to shambles all around us, I did manage to finish my first revision for The Nameless Prince, and now I'm about to dive into revisions on a new book that I drafted last fall. Basically, I'm Little Miss Revision Pants these days, so it seems fitting to write a post about it.
(I know that I was right in the middle of a blog series about my path to publication, but I'm all meh with the apocalypse right now. I'll get back to it when I'm less meh.)
To say I have a "revision process" is a bit of a stretch because, really, it's just me blindly flailing through draft after draft until I have a book close to where I want it. That said, I love chatting with other writers about how they go about the hot mess that is novel-creation. Maybe someone out there will find my own revision process (aka flailing) handy. So for what it's worth ...
I wrote the first draft of a new book over the course of about seven weeks this past October and November. This time around, I tried to do some Tessa Gratton-style world-building before I began drafting, but it quickly devolved into a typical Megan Morass of dropped plot threads and disappearing characters. I finished it. I reached a point that felt THE END-ish, and I put it far, far away.
Every time I write a rough draft, I spend about three months letting it breath during which time I think to myself, "That was the most horrific piece of drivel anyone has ever written. I shudder to think of the moment when I shall have to face it again." But do you know what's amazing? Every time I come back to a rough draft and read it through for the first time (after letting it sit for many weeks) it's always muuuuuuuuch better than I thought it was.
If there is one piece of wisdom I might possibly be able to offer a fellow writer, it is this: LET YOUR ROUGH DRAFT SIT.
Putting that first draft aside is like letting bread rise. You throw some basic ingredients into a bowl and mix them up and smoosh them with your hands. You walk away from the pallid, shapeless blob you have made still covered in the sticky residue of your creation.
You wash yourself up and do a load of laundry and let your kids talk you into watching way too much YouTube, and when you come back to the sad lump of dough, you discover that spongy and magical things have happened to it while you weren't looking.
When you let the first, terrible, pathetic discovery draft sit for a bit, all the ideas you brain-vomited continue to ferment in your mind, even as you keep going to your day job, even as you put the kids to bed and load the dishwasher, even as you work on other writing projects. Those ideas grow, become more complex, take on symbolic meaning. When you come back to the first, terrible, pathetic discovery draft weeks later and read it through the first time, you begin to see not what it was, but what it is going to be.
I slog my way through first drafts. It doesn't matter if I plot them or pants them. It doesn't matter how much legwork I do ahead of time. It doesn't matter how much research my crazy librarian ass carries out. It is a slog. Every. Single. Time. But when I come back to it after letting it sit, when I read it through that first time, it amazes me how clearly themes start popping out of the text. I can begin to see what snarling philosophical thicket my unconscious mind was trying to unpick. And if I can see that, I can start to figure out which scenes serve the heart of the novel, and which ones don't.
When I began this new project a few months ago, I knew I wanted to write a book about religion. Grappling with my own religious beliefs (or lack thereof) defined my teenage years, and I wanted to write a book that I wish my teenaged self could have read during that time. As I read through this draft now, I can see how specific I got with that premise. In hindsight, I can see that wrote a book about a girl and her body. What does her religion teach her to believe about her body? Who has control of her body? What can she do so that she is the one in control of her body? I didn't intend to write about that concept specifically, but that is exactly what I did. And it is cool as hell:
"Is that what she was now? Prison and prisoner? It was how she felt."
"... her body belonged to something else now, too ..."
"'Says the boy whose body is entirely his own.'"
"Her body was tethered to the Kantari, but her mind was tethered to the text."
"She envied the ease with which he navigated the physical world without any thought to what it cost his soul. He simply was."
"It felt a fitting tribute, to pray with her body for a girl whose body was no more."
Do you see it?? Because I do. And now that I see it, I'm starting to understand what happens in this novel and, more importantly, why. There's an ancient text in this book that the protagonist is translating, for example. It pops up randomly throughout the draft and does little to propel the plot forward. But now that I'm starting to understand the book thematically, I can see where that text might belong and how it will, in fact, move the story forward in the next draft. Now that I know where I'm going thematically, I can see where the different pieces go and what they're doing there in the first place.
Basically, I now have a road map, an understanding of how I'm going to shape the loaf as it were. It won't be finished at that point, but it's going to start looking like the book it will become.