The seduction of adding new content to your manuscript as you read over it for revision and bathe in the tides of exciting new insights as they wash over you – that’s hard to deny. You can make all the Word documents containing your giddy tangential flights of fancy you like; you can try to keep you editorial comments as clear of speculation as possible and change your desktop background to an image you got off Google images that reminds you of the core aspect of your story, but at the end of the day two things will still be true:
- Newness is sexy
- Your manuscript still needs work
My own perspective on this is certainly coloured by the fact that I’ve got a manuscript that I now consider a first draft, which is to say it’s the one and only revision I’ve made to the original manuscript. It’s got the rhythm of a coherent linear narrative (though it is worth noting narratives need not be linear to be coherent), but the actual content is contradictory and still full of filler. It needs work; it needs refining, yes, but with that refinement comes a certain shrinkage – cutting out all the filler means it needs something to replace it with, something substantive that helps to hold the story together.
When I first started revision, I had a choice between starting over again or sticking with what I had to work with. I chose the latter for a sense of clarity, and it’s instilled me with a purpose of making as few changes as possible. This makes sense in terms of not making unnecessary changes – or, more positive, only making necessary changes. I caught myself wistfully dreaming of a “better” version of my story, but it had nothing to rest on – it was very much a different story altogether, albeit a different story with the same characters and locations and general themes. But not the central theme, and that’s really the main point. It wasn’t what I wanted, but what I wanted was going to take me so far off-track that it would be like undoing all the work that had gone into writing that zero draft, which was about 9 months of my life. I chose to stick with what I had for the sake of clarity, so that I had a direction I knew to go in.
And having said that: just because I had a clear path didn’t make it the right path. The fact that art is subjective is not the same as art being absolutely arbitrary; I had a clear way to tell the story in the form I’d written it in, but the way I’d written it was not necessarily the best way to write it. Hence revision, and hence the need for some new material.
The question now becomes: how much is too much? Keeping the core of the story at the forefront of every decision is paramount; new material has to serve the purpose of telling the story, revealing and developing its central premise. If it doesn’t serve this purpose, then it shouldn’t be in the story. On top of that, the idea of adding new stuff to this story has always come with a sense of stretching things out, however appealing the ideas themselves were; it was going to be more work, struggling to weave a story together out of thin air, and just thinking about it made me feel exhausted. I’m excited about writing new stuff for Tallulah now though, because it’s not about making stuff up anymore, really – I’ve got piles of ideas just from reading over my characters’ stories and seeing where things need to be shored up, and identifying key moments that need to be given more attention, attention I was too tired to give them at the time. I knew that certain things I’d written were unsatisfactory and thin, frustrating hints of the story this could be, and now I feel like I have the energy to actually take advantage of them being there.
Which is really just another way of using what I’ve already got, and now using it to help make up new stuff, by directing it and ensuring that it has a purpose in being there. I think my point is that I’m starting to feel excited about my book again, and as much as I’ve complained about how long I’ve taken to get it finished, I don’t think I would have felt so revitalised if I hadn’t taken some time off.
And the idea of making it into a series is becoming very alluring again, now that I have a new perspective on how it would play out – but that’s all stuff to consider later. It’s still hard to chart a course through the tantalising prospect of having free reign to create something entirely new while staying true to the heart of this story, and it’s something to be aware of. It’s something I think I’ve gotten better at. I don’t know what happened exactly – maybe it was just having a rest, maybe I’ve just changed more than I thought. But whatever the case …
Writing is exciting me again. I’ve missed this feeling.
I’m glad it came back.