Friday, September 17, 2010

A Writerly Conundrum--Sink or Swim?

Cookfire Week to finish with dessert over the weekend with the world's easiest campfire cobbler and my apple pie reimagining.

But first--a writerly update and musing. I have a date with the coffee shop tomorrow morning to start the next project (and to eat something pumpkin-y, I think--can one hurry the arrival of fall by eating more pumpkin items?). I'm excited, I'm so happy to return to this character (I'll admit--she's my favorite of any character I've created), and I'm a mite trepidatious, too. You see, I have a rule that I don't have more than one project going at a time. If I do that, I've a tendency to never finish anything. So, I imagined myself with a strict, one-project-at-a-go policy. I wasn't "allowed" to start December until I was querying Linden Hall--and when it became clear to me that Linden (at least as I imagined her--and I liked how I imagined her--and that's another post on another topic) wouldn't get off the ground, well, December was over halfway done. Seems a good system.

So--by starting a new project, I'm saying it's time to throw December into the pool and see if she can get by without an inner tube. That's kind of scary. And I started to wonder--does one come to a place that the manuscript is at the edge of a precipice, and it doesn't matter how many grammar glitches you catch, or scenes you cut, or polishes you make (and, oh, I have--how many purple pens must one go through?)--it either has wings, or it doesn't? It is, or it isn't? Linden wasn't--not without a huge reimagining of what I wanted the finished piece to be. And, aside from the publishing bit, I had done everything I wanted to with that piece. I was willing to leave it rather than tear it apart and turn it into something else. (And that favorite character? Gleaned from Linden Hall.)

Essentially: Is there a point at which revision won't get a work anywhere? That the concept is either good or not workable? Sink or swim?

We read about agents requesting revise and resubmits, and about the editorial letters authors receive when their work is picked up by a publisher. So, clearly, there are pieces out there that aren't there yet, but have the potential to be turned into something remarkable through revision. And the opposite, too, is likely true--that there are manuscripts that, for what they are, are revised to perfection, but that perfection isn't going anywhere. The work has no wings. It's going to fall off that precipice, not fly.

All this to say--I'm at the point of sink-or-swim with December. Do you feel like a work hits a sink-or-swim point? Or is there always room for improvement? For some works, but not others?

And where are you at with your projects, writerly or otherwise? Starting anything new with the arrival of fall? Most importantly, are you drinking or eating pumpkin-y things? I've decided we can hurry the arrival of autumn by doing so, but we'll all need work together!


Sharmon said...

What a good post. Some good questions and I"m not sure I have enough answers. I've read, like you have I'm sure, of writers who labored over multiple revisions of a novel and then put it away--maybe after a few hundred agent rounds. Then they write another, and another, and it might be the 4th or 5th that "takes wing and doesn't sink". I don't think you can know--for certain--beforehand. You can have a good hunch, and as writers we have to go w/ our hunches a lot.
December sounds fascinating, and you gleaned her from the previous work? Very cool.
As for my project, I had hoped to have the first revision finished by now and be working on the next novel (fall is so perfect for new beginnings!)but I've been in the Slough of Despond this week w/ the editing--it's now looking better. You/I can't rush the process and the process is laborious.
Now I'll do my part and find something pumpkiny...

Jillian said...

I love the name Linden Hall. December, too.

I think there's always a way to salvage a piece of writing, depending on the author's patience. Sometimes it requires an overhall of the whole thing, and if the writer isn't into that, it's time to put it aside. Sometimes it's smarter in the long run to put it aside. That doesn't mean it wasn't salvageable; just that a newer story might be a better fit for the writer -- at that time.

My projects? I've given up writing fiction for a while. I'm focusing instead on reading classic/modern literature so I can see some of the masterpieces as complete wholes. I've been looking at the 'details' of writing; now I was to see it working all together, to get a look at successful story-telling before I try again on my own.

I'm also back in college this quarter and looking forward in particular to my poetry class. :-)

Jill said...

The first three books I wrote were not worth the work of editing. The next two need work, but I have a good feeling about them. They are exciting; they are what I always wanted to write and never knew it. I suspect you, as the writer, will have a sense of your own project's workability. You should wait until you finish writing it before making your decision, though. Sometimes novels feel impossibly stupid during the process.

I have a garden pumpkin sitting on my counter. On the other hand, it's 90 degrees outside, so fall seems like a long way away!! It will come soon, especially if you live farther north than I do.

Rowenna said...

Sharmon--glad the editing is looking up-and-up. Yes, I think we have to follow our hunches--and of course be willing to lay manuscripts to rest. A bit sad of a thought, but also sort of romantic--like loving a person and not knowing if they'll return the affection.

Jillian--thanks :) I like titles hehe. Great points, that sometimes putting aside writing isn't giving up on it permanently--just for that time. Such a fluid life, writing is, isn't it? Exciting to be taking classes! I know I'm loving having class again...hope you enjoy!

Jill--best of luck with the projects you're working on! I think I can say safely that I'm done with this one...and I'm feeling inchingly more confident in it. Love pumpkins--and it was something like 85 where I am today. Fall will come soon :)