Aspects of Writing a Novel

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma.  In the afternoon I put it back again. -Oscar Wilde

Writing a novel can be fun.  Revising a novel is a pain in the ass.  The above quote by Oscar Wilde is the most accurate one I have found dealing with the revision process.  So that non-writers have a sense of what it’s like for writers when revising our magnum opuses, I have broken down the revision process into its different stages:

1. ELATION

This stage occurs when one finally finishes a rough draft that one has been working on for ages.

2. PATIENCE

At first, the revisions go well, and one is willing to sacrifice much time in making them work.

3. IRRITATION

This happens when an author hits his or her bump.  Sometimes it takes a few hours, a walk around the block, or a good night’s sleep to see how to solve this problem when it occurs, which is then solved rather easily.

4. FRUSTRATION

Instead of hitting a small bump, the author deflates both tires on a spiky monstrosity, then a tree falls on the hood.  Major blockage occurs, one in which neither a walk around the block, nor several nights of sleep, will unblock.

5. RELIEF

One finds that the best way to revise this blockage is to remove the circumstances that led to it.  Simply get in the car, back up, and try another road.

6. DEJECTION

This is when the realization sets in that one’s characters, story, plot, pacing, and writing is worse than anything that one has ever read.

7. ACCEPTANCE

One accepts that one is not Leo Tolstoy, and that what is bad can be fixed, but doesn’t have to be perfect.  Revisions over the next few days aren’t drastic, but improve the story by degrees.

8. ELATION/FRUSTRATION

Revisions are done.  While I haven’t gotten to this stage yet, I imagine it involves a mixture of elation and frustration; the former for the fact that one is finished (enough to send out the manuscript to an agent, at least), the latter because a book is never as good as the author wants it to be, especially when first starting out as a novelist.

I should mention that these stages don’t necessarily occur in order, and often repeat themselves several times before the process is complete.  Right now, I am in the frustration/dejection mode, but often the way out of this is to find help through another author’s insights, which is why I have stopped reading The Mabinogion (I would stop reading Biographia Literaria, but I refuse to be beaten by an author who’s been dead for over 100 years) and have started reading Kokoro, since I need ideas from a novel right now, not a collection of ancient tales.  Doing fun, active activities also helps, which is why I swing dance on Monday nights.  Playing frustrating old-school video games probably does not, nor does seeing so many films.  Nature always helps, as does movement.  I wish I had a bicycle here, but they’re a bit too expensive for me to own one now, unless I can find a cheap used one that is in decent shape.

Other ways to help include cleaning the house, rearranging my room, listening to music (really listening, not just having it on in the background), and going on adventures.  Of course, that’s the irony about writing.  One can either live a full life and scramble for time to write, or have much time to write and nothing to write about.  In all cases, the former option is the better option to have, while I am currently stuck with the latter option.

Also, Seattle’s weather isn’t helping.  It’s becoming dark and rainy outside, and the air has turned cold.  Autumnal air, with its wet leaf smell, is wonderful, but the lack of sunlight is not.  Some people have summer homes; people in Seattle need winter homes.  I’ve thought about putting my computer desk closer to the window, but then my bed would have to go into my closet space, and it would be tough to get to my clothes.  If I get a laptop/notebook for Christmas, then I will have more mobility when it comes to where I write–something which should help improve my inspiration, as I will be able to write around more people when I need a jolt of energy, and fewer people when I need to concentrate.  A radio may help, as well.  It seemed to help in Japan, when I had to write in a notebook balanced on my lap.

Other writing can spur on writing, as well.  Writing in my diary helps not only to free my mind from the past, but also helps start the motors in my head for when I have to shift my attention to my novel.  Also, next week will be spent in West Seattle, so I will have some quiet time to write, away from the distractions of my home.

Let’s hope it helps.

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Author: Greg Salvatore

Author. Voice Actor. Humanist. Feminist.

3 thoughts on “Aspects of Writing a Novel”

  1. I have only written short reviews, but I partially understand your experience at least. I usually dislike my drafts(especially when they are the reviews for FFC), but they get better through revision process, although there are always dissatisfaction and anxiety whenever they are finally posted.

    By the way, good luck with your work. As far as I know, a quiet place always helps – and stay away from Internet as much as you can.

    1. Yes, the work does get better through the revision process, provided that one doesn’t over-revise. And I am convinced that the temptations of the Internet have made it much harder to write long works of fiction, due to its easy access and empty promises of fun and substance.

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