People write for many different reasons. Some people have stories to tell. Some people enjoy the thrill of creating worlds and deciding the fate of their characters. Some love to write steamy and sensual love scenes. Some people write to avoid real life. Some people have political agendas. I would assume that journalism and non fiction writers have a lot of the same goals. And I’m sure some people just want the voices in their heads to shut up.
With all these different end goals in mind, it’s easy to see why there are so many methods and approaches to writing. Some people slap a bunch of words on paper and call it good. Some people spend years methodically reviewing their work and placing their words, sentences, and paragraphs in the absolute “correct” and proper format in an attempt to persuade others to their point of view.
Suffice to say, layout (and I don’t mean format) of your work can say a lot about you and your purposes in publishing a book. There are chapters to consider, sections, introductions, epilogues, footnotes, etc. How much do you give away in your chapter titles? If someone scans your table of contents, will they know your intention from the get go? Will it give anything away? Ruin any surprise ending? Imagine scrolling through the table of contents on The Sixth Sense and seeing the chapter heading “Dr. Malcolm Crowe Realizes He’s Dead.” Sure, that’s a bit extreme, but you can see what I mean, right?
I write about this because this is a massive struggle of mine right now. Part of the appeal in Hollow Towns, even for me, is not knowing what is happening to the world. In the short stories that I’ve published, it’s unknown what is going on, even though I give several of the “Minutemen” voices throughout the teasers.
Starting out, I had a layout plan, but the more I wrote, the more I realized that it didn’t flow properly. And regardless of my intentions, agendas, etc., it just didn’t read the way I wanted it to. So I had to reconsider my plan, and I’ve been struggling with it ever since. If I give away too much too soon, I feel that it will ruin the feel of the work. I love the moody overcast feel of it (it’s what’s kept me chugging along with this piece for eight years). And I don’t want to break that spell.
So what’s the answer here? I’ve come up with a solution that I feel assists the flow of the work and maintains the suspense that I’m looking for. But it became obvious, rather quickly, that due to my change in layout, I had to change ALL OF MY CHAPTER TITLES. They gave away too much too soon.
All of this makes me reminiscent of my first day in college. There I was, a small town, shy, freshman girl at a huge university and my first class was Monday morning, bright and early at 7:30am. Whoever decided that was a great time to schedule “Writing as Critical Thinking” should be fish slapped. Yes. I just made a Veggie Tales reference. Deal.
So there I was, terrified, in a room full of complete strangers, and a bright eyed, enthusiastic, surfer dude college grad student stands up and proclaims that he is our student teacher and that his goal is to prove to us that the revision process is NEVER OVER for a writer.
Okay, so those weren’t his first words. I really don’t remember those words. All I remember is that the guy was waaaaaay too happy and awake at 7:30am and that he would tease us mercilessly if we started to doze in his class. And, of course, that he constantly attempted to pound this idea into our heads that the revision process was never over. As a writer, he would say, you will spend the rest of your life revising your work.
That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it? Seriously. I think eight years of writing this work is a bit much. I’m ready to be done with it! Eventually you have to wash your hands of it and let it go. (And no, that is NOT a Frozen reference.) If we didn’t eventually let a work go, we would never publish anything!
But there is an appropriate amount of time to revise something. I think the only rule that truly applies to every author is that you have to revise until you’ve reached your goal. Does your work say what you want it to say? Is the story complete? Have you hooked your readers? Have you convinced them of whatever it is you want to convince them? If not, then you’re obviously not finished. And as authors, we’re pretty honest with ourselves. We know when a piece isn’t finished, just as an artist does. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel complete, and as a result, we don’t feel complete and we don’t feel okay with letting it go.
I really have no end game in this, I just needed to vent about my process and give an explanation as to why Hollow Towns is not going to be released in 2014. I’m hoping for early 2015. But it needs to be right. It needs to say what I want it to say. The story needs to be complete. And therefore, I will keep working on it.
*Please note there will be no blog next week. For those of you who sit on the edge of your seats waiting for my weekly or, at times, biweekly blog, I apologize. There will be at least one more before the end of the year, but that’s all I’m promising.*