Monday, June 22, 2009

Rebooting, intention and macro edits

On the official first day of summer, at least according to astronomers, I'm rebooting my summer plan, which was supposed to get started over a month ago at the end of the academic calendar. I've made the mistake of waiting for certain elements to fall into place before starting the next draft, all the while thinking it would be any day now, and the day never came--thought it still may any day now. It's been quite frustrating and I'm disappointed to have wasted the month this way, but I've decided to cut my losses. I'm starting the next draft with the resources I have at hand. Starting this morning.

My hope has been that I'm at the stage where I can concentrate just on sentence-level work, but I know that's wishful thinking. I think I can say that I'm beyond the "digging and developing" stage and am trying to bring it all into sharper focus. But not just by making sentences sharper. I really need to look at each chapter or episode and decide what the point is and bring the important part into starker relief. I think that's mostly by carving away what's extra, but it also includes revising what's there to hit the beat more energetically.

The way I'm thinking of this is in terms of "intention" which is a notion that I got from reading Susan Bell's book The Artful Edit. She defines it as the overarching aim that guides both the writer and the reader and advises, "Ask yourself when you edit: What is it I want? What am I trying to do here? Where am I going with this?"

I suppose that's not radically different from other goggles I've put on to evaluate the work, like asking myself what the character wants or what problem the scene is complicating and moving forward. But it's a fresh look.

So I'm asking those questions, doing a lot of journaling as I go. I did that this a.m. for the first five chapters, and it was quite illuminating. It really does help me see how the chapters can connect to one another, where they don't yet, and where some material probably won't align with the overall intention and can safely be pulled out.

For example, one of the issues up in the air right now is about the necessity of Chapter 5. Why is it in there? What's it doing that other chapters don't do? After this exercise I have a much better answer to that. I'm not perfectly convinced that the chapter is necessary, but I have a better potential rationale for it, so I'll tackle the revision with this new focus in mind and see if I can make the chapter work.

I'm torn between doing that kind of meta-writing all the way through the book or pausing to make revisions with the focus that I've achieved, chapter by chapter. Right now I'm leaning toward the latter, which would mean starting to revise the first clump of chapters tomorrow. 1-4 are a single unit that need to be revised together. It's probably the area with the most drastic rewriting that needs to happen. Then Chapter 5. And hopefully after that I'll be cruising.

I don't have a realistic sense of the timeline. I just have a longing to get this book done this summer. The kinds of revisions I'm talking about keep increasing in complexity, so I don't know if that's possible. After all, intention is item 1 in Susan Bell's checklist of MACRO edits.

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