There are some seventeen-year-olds who sit down to write something and just immediately pour forth brilliance.
I am not one of them. Mainly because I’m not seventeen anymore. But I was seventeen when I sat down to have my first real go at novel-writing. This was when I discovered I was not a child prodigy. Which, you know. You never know until you try.
If you are a prodigy of any kind, then the subject of this blog post is probably irrelevant to you. You get to just skip the third step in the writing process, which is to revise. However, if you’re not a prodigy, then the subject of revision is really, REALLY important. Revision is a transformation process that turns your stacks of illegible hand-scrawled paper into, well, a real book.
I loved writing Storyteller for the first time. I’d attempted a few stories before it, but I’d never actually finished anything. With this particular story idea, though, I had a feeling I’d finally be able to see the whole thing through. And I did. It was a bit short of novel-length, but it had a beginning, middle, end, an actual plot (something I tend to struggle with), and a fairly diverse array of characters. I was young and it was my first finish and I was proud of it.
It needed revision.
I was still seventeen when I went through it for the first time, but I did the best I could to find things that didn’t make sense or sounded awkward or just felt wrong. I made a ton of notes in the margins (see above picture), and then started a fresh rewrite. And then another. I worked on that thing for the rest of high school, plugging away at it, putting it aside to rest, then going back, giving it to other people, and revising according to their suggestions.
Halfway through my first year of college, I decided I really had to buckle down and finish revising, and started writing it from page one according to some changes I thought would aid me in character-troubles I couldn’t seem to solve. I got through 3/4 of the way through a complete rewrite and realized I still didn’t have it right.
This was frustrating, and I wondered if I should simply ditch the thing, but I used this frustration to discovery-write some things about my main characters. Mainly, I messed around with some sketches that took place twenty years after the events of the story I was trying to write. The sketches turned into a novel nearly 700 pages long: something I wrote during my sophomore and junior year of college, when I was quite a bit better at writing than I’d been at seventeen. I received good feedback on this tale, but when I went to revise it, I realized that I couldn’t unless I first finished its predecessor.
This realization depressed me thoroughly, because I’d worked on it for so long and couldn’t seem to get it despite the fact that I still liked the idea. But I thought I’d give it one more go. I mulled over the old story and character problems. Made notes. Read books and watched movies and wished I could create stuff like that. Made more notes. Drew mind-maps. Had long discussions with the people who had suffered through the early versions of the story and knew what I was trying to get at.
At about 2 AM on a morning shortly before the last semester of my final year at college, I sat up with index cards and plotted out the stupid thing, start to finish, with a card for each event and character and theme and setting. The story took up an entire carpet when I was finished, but in that O Dark Thirty Hour, I did it. I made it work.
I just had to write the thing one more time.
Last year, during my final semester, when I was supposed to be working on my senior thesis, and after graduation, when I was supposed to be finding a “real” job, I wrote Storyteller. And this time, it worked. The joy of writing it for the first time came roaring back, expect now I had a bit of know-how I hadn’t been privy to back in high school.
It’s still not perfect. But it’s . . . quite close to good. After nearly six years, it’s almost ready for the last step in the writing process.
Now, this is not a how-to story. I don’t think everything should get five+ years of attention before you decide it’s “ready.” It’s simply an illustration. Revision is tough. It often takes the longest out of all the steps. But it’s necessary. And, hopefully, it leads to beautiful things.
Good luck. =]