Back in the groove (and my outtakes file)

Last week, I was feeling pretty unhappy about the novel. I picked it up for the first time in a few months, and as I read through it, I felt it wasn’t working the way I wanted it to work. I was not terribly excited about putting more work into the thing, given how much work I’ve already invested (ah, sunk costs). 

But, as some of you predicted, now that I’ve started revising again, I’m finding myself plunged into the story. I have the characters in my brain and as I understand their motivations even more, I see new scenes and changes to old ones that I feel compelled to write. I am thinking about the book all the time. I wake up in the morning and I’m with the characters. After a few hours in the text, I’m in Cortlandt, PA, not in Gladwyne, PA. And given that I am the puppet master of Cortlandt, PA, this is quite a dizzying feeling.

The truth is, I’m really enjoying myself. I love writing, but perhaps my favorite part of writing is when I have something in reasonable shape, and I’m making it better. That’s when I start finding hours I didn’t know I had to work on my projects. Indeed — sorry to any of my editors who read my blog! — I’ve kind of been putting everything else off to do this.

At some point I’ll have to go back to real life, but at the moment, letting myself spend hours editing this purely speculative project is kind of my treat to myself.

I really appreciate those of you who read the manuscript in beta earlier this year, and I really appreciate the notes I got from a few of you this past week telling me that you were still thinking about the characters. This project will come together eventually, and as one of my characters says, “We’ve got time. I’ve got lots of stories and we’ve got lots of time.”

Just as a mechanics-of-writing tip, a few major book projects ago, I realized that as a manuscript gets bigger and farther along in its journey, you can’t just delete stuff. Whole scenes or at least sentences are already shaped, and you might want to use parts elsewhere. Or in the non-fiction books, I might be able to use sections for a column or blog post (I’m the frugal sort, and I use all parts of the buffalo in this operation). So for every project I create an “Outtakes” file where all cut bits are pasted. In the days of typewriters, I would literally have stuff on the cutting room floor to sort through and save if I wished, and the outtakes file re-creates that.

5 thoughts on “Back in the groove (and my outtakes file)

  1. I love getting to the end of a research paper, when it’s been awhile since I’ve done any real writing, after it’s been revised by co-authors, gone through the review process, been edited by the journal, and thinking, “You know what? This is pretty good. And it was my work”. It’s such a satisfying feeling at the end of a process that sometimes feels like it takes forever.

  2. In my experience it’s not unusual for people writing fiction to have one or more moments when they read through or evaluate the manuscript and are deeply unsatisfied with it. Sometimes it means there are big problems, but more often it just means there’s more work to do to get the project where you want it. Sounds like you’ve gotten over the hump–good luck with the revising!

    1. @Elizabeth – thanks! Yes, I think there’s a phrase I heard once that a poem is never finished, it is only abandoned. That’s probably true with novels as well.

    1. @Sarah – thanks, so glad you liked it! I may need readers of the new version some day if you’re up for it…

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