Sunday, October 31, 2010

Countdown to NaNoWriMo DAY SEVEN! (Evolution of a Manuscript)

Happy Halloween!  And...

Holy crap!  Holy crap!  Anyone else seeing a massive to-do list flying before their eyes right now, and wondering how on earth they'll manage to accomplish everything before tomorrow morning?  Anyone else wondering why the devil they didn't take care of all these things last week?  Anyone else suddenly doubting their ability to compose a coherent sentence, much less a 50,000 word novel--despite having done both many times before?

Yeah.  We'll get over it.  You know why?  Because NaNoWriMo is FUN.  And even if it is a major tax on that thing we like to call Spare Time, it's totally worth it.  It's like a kid being told to eat all the cookies on the pan as fast as possible: It seems like it shouldn't be allowed, and you know it will make you at least a little sick... but it's so opposite of what you normally do, you simply can't resist the outrageous fun of it.

Okay.  Let's get on with it.  Today's workshop highlights are from editor/publisher Stephen Roxburgh (see his other workshop here), and it's all about the Evolution of a Manuscript.  And from someone who's had lot's of experience watching a manuscript develop (Mr. Roxburgh has worked with many authors, including Roald Dahl and Madeleine L'Engle), I think this information is golden.

The Stages of Novel Writing:
o       Replace the concept of DRAFT with that of a PILE.
o       In the imagining stage, let go any sense of structure.  Don’t cling to anything.  Don’t let the technical questions hamper you down.  JUST WRITE.  As long as your imagination is giving you things, write them down! 
o       Words on paper may be rubbish or discordant, but at least they are more than just a thought.
o       Give yourself the freedom and opportunity at this stage to Just Write.
o       Don’t put it on the clock!  Don’t try and put a time limit on a project. [UNLESS YOU'RE WRITING FOR NANOWRIMO. :) ]
o       It is not a test of will.  Wrestling a project to the ground doesn’t work.  This kind of work does not lend itself to full-frontal assault.  Your story doesn’t want to be forced out.
o       In this stage, just let yourself write.
o       “Writer’s Block” comes from setting the bar way too high.
o       The things that happen when you let yourself go and loosen up are marvelous.
o       You can interrupt the process at any time to add, etc.
o       You have to know so much more than your reader, and the only way to know is to write it.  So write down all your backstory and character webbing, even if you know you'll never use it in the story.
o       Under-imagined characters don’t bring anything to the book.  Always write it out, even if only for yourself.  Give yourself the time.
o       We’re already disposed to be hypercritical of ourselves.  Don’t do that at this stage.

o       Revision requires distance: objective, critical viewing of the story.  Stand up above it and see if it has a recognizable shape.
o       People tend to revise by going back to the beginning and reading to the end—doing the same thing over and over—merely tweaking and polishing.  Not Re-Visioning.  (You can’t polish a turnip.  You can only rub it.)
o       They also try to track too many things at once.  Juggling too many things at one time is NOT productive.  Look at only ONE thing at a time.  Don’t get sucked in to polishing.  Look at the big picture first.
o       Take the Heart of your story and examine every scene that encompasses it.  See if it is all moving the way you want it to. 
o       View your work analytically. 
o       Only look at one piece at a time.  Focus.  Does each scene move the plot?  Does it accomplish what I want it to? 
o       Flag the things you want to come back to.
o       Flag the places that slow things down.
o       If two encounters do effectively the same thing, lose one.

-          Crude, and startlingly effective Revision Tips:
o       Have in your mind to see clearly.
o       It is an endless cycle of refinement
*         Put the MS away for one year.
*         Try to work on something else anyway.
*         Take the time to get away from it, and distance yourself.
*        Reset the font, margins, and line spacing.  This will force you to have fresh eyes.
*        Don’t start on page one.  Shuffle pages, and read them one at a time, out of order.  This is very good for refining.  You’re not caught up in the story.

o       Looking at every word, every encounter, and making it the best possible word/sentence to notch it up and intensify it.
o       Your language should burn with a hard, gem-like flame.
o       Ask yourself: how do I want my reader to feel right now?  Is there anything at all I can do to intensify or enhance that?
o       Revision is seeing something anew, in another way.

-          Some Other Notes
o       You have to be consistent.  The last word in a Manuscript after it is published IS THE MANUSCRIPT—not anything the author might say about it.
o       If you don’t know what should  be happening in your book, there is a problem.
o       “Maybe they won’t notice…?  Maybe this will slip by them and they’ll give me the Newbery anyway…?”  NO.  If there’s a problem with your manuscript, you’d better fix it.
o       The Mushy Middle is the hardest part.  If you can tighten it and get the pacing right, you’re doing well.
o       Most people submit prematurely.  They don’t hold on too long, they let go too early.  That can dig your grave, because most professionals won’t give you a second chance with the same book.

Any thoughts on all this?  Personally, I found it to be a very useful way of looking at the whole process--from brainstorming to polishing--all from an editor's perspective.  Mr. Roxburgh's advice is good for NaNoWriMo, but it carries us well beyond November.  Anyone have any thoughts or opinions (or experiences) to add?  

Happy NaNo-ing!  Come back tomorrow morning before you start for a wave farewell and a NaNo share-fest!


  1. Woohoo!!! We can do this Hannah!!! We'll kick that NaNo count out of the water!!!

  2. Haha, yes we certainly can! Let the madness begin!

  3. This is a very insightful post! I will add it to My Delicious list.

    I've added you as my NaNo buddy. I'm there as janicephelpswilliams.

    Thank you for following our blog.