Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Resolution Again: Revise

My New Year’s resolution is the same as last year’s, until June at least.  2011 was my first year writing in which I spent most of my time revising!

After I revised my Authonomy Editor’s Desk book, The Swan Bonnet, I kept going with my old stuff.   I had loved the new idea and if I got the message, “Not right for us but send again”, that had me going on to my next idea.  I enjoyed making a creative mess but I wasn’t so avid about cleaning up.

One recent year I went dry.  I thought that sad but while reading A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf, I knew I hadn’t gone the length.  Virginia had to keep revising for publication and she suffered.

“This is in fact the last day of 1932, but I am so tired of polishing off Flush – such a pressure in the brain is caused by doing ten pages daily…”

Back to my last blog subject about writing and sanity, I had pondered the sanity of Virginia Woolf’s work.  I’d suspected that life issues caused some of her infamous madness.  And found that her suicide was related to the threat of Nazi invasion.  Leonard Woolf in his memoir, The Journey Not the Arrival Matters, wrote of a suicide plan that he discussed with Virginia and other Jews in England.  Virginia died when the Nazis were winning and invasion seemed imminent.

She revised to migraine level.
“I am now galloping over Mrs. Dalloway, retyping it entirely from the start, which is more or less what I did with the V.O.  [The Voyage Out]:  a good method, I believe, as thus one works with a wet brush over the whole, and joins parts separately composed and gone dry.”

Hey, that’s what I did when I revised.  Put the whole thing through the typewriter or word processor again.

I had so much thrilled at my imaginative discoveries that I went from one project to the next like a thrall.  But along the way, I’d also discovered that the more I enjoyed myself, I didn’t like reading what I wrote.

“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” (Samuel Johnson)

What we read of Willa Cather is one-third of what she first wrote.  My old manuscripts were like crude sculpture, needing refinement.  The more I lopped words, the more the story came out of the blob.  When I drafted a story, I put in everything I could think of, the kitchen sink, so that if one thing worked and another didn’t, that could go.   I'll probably cut 25,000 words out of my adult novel by the end of my current rewrite.

I suppose I gave up rather than working.  If digital publishing hadn’t happened in my lifetime, it’s doubtful that I would have done the work that might make my projects readable.  I received letters from top editors at major houses but I didn’t get what I wanted - a long letter discussing revision like the Authonomy reviews.  I received short or brief letters.  And I thought my next project was going to be the greatest.

As with most longterm work, revising and editing my own manuscripts began to feel like a skill.  I regretted that I hadn’t learned it earlier.  I’d had my experience amongst writers in Minneapolis and after that, I wrote in a vacuum, not realizing that writers are like other working people.  They probably won’t do so well alone.

“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”  (Lawrence Kasdan)

At first the revising was like bicycling a mountain path but the ride down was so nice that I revised another book even if it made me look at my past mistakes.

During this, I read Nancy Brook's Cycling, Wine and Men:  A Midlife Tour de France.  In this memoir, the author literally bicycles mountains while musing on the challenges of life after 40.  Here is my review:

Nancy Brook has chronicled both the challenges of middle age relationship and that of athletic endurance in this delightful book. It is a ride to take, the strenuous mileage of her cycling while she works out personal dilemmas and proves that she can pass her own test - riding up mountains in France. This is a tour of France with the underpinning of purpose.

While I could imagine this exciting trek like a viewer of athletes on television, she has provided tidbits on the French villages, history, and the ambiance of her tour friends. Like the destinations on her map, she has interwoven her own concerns, the doctor Dante, the cat Oreo missing at home, and the epiphanies that she reaches in the way that she cycles to a mountaintop near the end. This is a book that celebrates womanly endurance while facing whatever surrounds.  It has the travel writer's description and the flow of story, two-fold and inspiring.