Epiphanies, Other Opinions and Listening

Went for a long walk yesterday through Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Paddington, Rushcutters Bay. It’s spring here and almost everywhere smelt like jasmine.1 The sounds weren’t quite as lovely. Spring seems to be the season of renovations in Paddington so the hills were alive with the sound of jackhammers. That and really pissed off birds. One of which shat right in front of me: had I been a fraction faster . . . splat of eww on my head.2

Mostly I was thinking about Sekrit Project, which I’ve been rewriting since THE DAWN OF TIME and seems to be getting no closer to as GOOD AS IT IS IN MY HEAD.

Hence the walk. I figured change of environment, a bit of movement, colour, jasmine, jackhammers, and the way to fix this book would become clear. Not so much.

Got back home with no clear plan for the broken chapters, nibbled around the edges of them, tinkering at the sentence level, which helps pretty much not at all given most of those sentences will be nuked. After an hour of frustration and little forward momentum I stomped off for another long walk. This time with Scott.

And it was fun. Much talk was talked. Yummy food was eaten. Centennial Park was admired.

Plan to fix book was not hatched.

Not exactly.

My early readers—including Scott—were unanimous that the second point of view character does not have their first pov chapter until too late in the book. It’s taken weeks of ignoring that suggestion and several long walks for me to realise that, yes, they’re probably right and if I fix that then solutions to some of the other problems may be clearer.

Or might not. But the first third of the book will definitely be in better shape.

Yesterday I was annoyed I hadn’t just made the changes as soon as they were suggested. Today I figure it took as long as it took to realise they were necessary. I can’t make changes I don’t believe will fix the book.

Maybe changing the pov early on was not the solution I needed a few weeks ago. I’ve fixed many other problems in the book since my first readers got back to me. Could be I wasn’t able to see that the pov needed changing until the other fixes had been made.

This is why I find it so crucial to have other people read and comment on my first drafts. Even if I think their reading of my manuscript is loopy. Their responses let me gauge how close my book is to what I intended. As I rewrite I’m moving closer to my vision of the novel as bounced off the reactions of those early readers. Some of their comments that I dismissed as irrelevant wind up being very relavant the deeper into the rewrites I go.

This last week I wasted a lot of time banging my head and getting no where and waiting for an epiphany: a flash of genius that would magically show me how to fix that which is broken. Which did not happen. I’m sure they do happen for other writers but I seem to be more of a Slow Realiser than a Receiver of Epiphanies.

Yet despite having written multiple novels I still have it in my stupid head that when I’m stuck there’ll be an epiphany that will fix everything. I think I’ve seen too many cartoons where ideas manifest as electric bulbs over characters’ heads.

Sadly, my writing life seems to be electric-bulb-over-the-head-free. For me it’s always been this fix leads to this bit being changed which leads to this other fix being needed which leads to this other change which means the front bit has to be moved which means . . . cascades of changes.

It’s less easy than it looks. I keep wishing it were the other way around.

I am so grateful to Scrivener which allows me to keep track of everything. Seriously have no idea how I wrote a novel before Scrivener.

In conclusion: writing is hard.

  1. Sorry, Margo, but it truly did. []
  2. No, I don’t care that it’s meant to be good luck. []

10 comments

  1. Chris Jones on #

    Being almost to the rewriting stage of my first novel, I have to tell you this post did not make me long for it.

    I’ve been an editor for years, and I know how hard rewriting is. I’ve never had to rewrite something over, say, 20,000 words, though, and the prospect of having to make monumental changes to 350 pages of narrative strikes me dumb.

    It can be done, though, right?

  2. Justine on #

    Chris Jones: Yes, absolutely it can be done!

    This post was a bit of an aberration because actually rewriting is my favourite part of the process. The first draft is much less fun because I’m never quite sure I have an actual novel until there’s a complete draft. So no matter how unfun some parts of the rewriting process are I know I’m going to finish. I’m going to figure out how to make it good. And I really enjoy taking shitty sentences and engoodening them, tweaking character’s arcs until they make sense to people other than me. It’s very satisfying. :-)

  3. Lauren McLaughlin on #

    I’ve been in this same boat for going on six months now. Just starting to get a handle on things. What worked for me was taking breaks. There was no giant lightbulb moment, but several small fairy light moments, which have added up to slow but incremental improvement. Also sending the novel to our agent whose feedback was immeasurably awesome. Granted, she mostly pointed out how deeply crudded up the novel was with what would turn out to be a totally misplaced science fictional premise. But still, a solid diagnosis is the beginning of a cure.

    At any rate, I, for one, am anxious to read whatever you write. So get it done, girl.

  4. Diana Peterfreund on #

    You know I’ve been stuck in rewrites since the dawn of time myself. I recently thought about using one of those plagiarism sites to compare how much of my final draft is left from my first draft. I’m taking bets it’s less than 30%.

  5. Alisa Alering on #

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been thinking for a while that I should share my drafts earlier – it might save me a lot of time. But it’s hard to overcome the shame of showing other people the mess that comes direct from my brain. Reading this, I get a nudge down the path.

  6. Justine on #

    Lauren McLaughlin: Thanks so much! Am very much looking forward to your next one too. Isn’t Jill the best?

    And, yes, to breaks. Am about to go away for the weekend for a wedding. Can’t wait.

    Diana Peterfreund: Ha! I think there’s a way to do that using Scrivener to though I have not tried it. You will finish. I know it.

    Alisa Alering: If you have a finished draft and someone who’s opinion you trust who’s willing to read it then DO SO! It helps so much. And the more readers you can show your book to the better.

    It becomes much less painful the more you do it but I never feel totally relaxed about it. I don’t think anyone does.

  7. Mitch Wagner on #

    I think it’s only good luck for the bird.

  8. Justine on #

    Mitch Wagner: I have always suspected as much. I bet they actually aim at us. Bloody birds . . .

  9. Justine on #

    Gwenda Bond: I knew it! That makes *so* much sense to me.

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