Revision Doubts, or, Who is this Boy?

I wrote this on Monday, but I got so busy that I didn’t post it until now…

My critique partners and writing partners are awesome, in part because they’re so honest.  Last Tuesday two of my my writing friends helped me to take a look at one of my characters.  He’s a main character, and I’d written the entire book without a clear picture in my mind of what he wants, deep down.  I was hoping it would come out in the text, and be there for me in revisions, which I now think it has.  But, back to Tuesday.  I described this character, and my friends told me what they thought of my description.  He’s boring and stereotypical, one said.  He doesn’t sound real, he sounds like his whole personality is based on his supernatural genetics, and he sounds like a drop-out, the other said.  They asked me a lot of questions I couldn’t answer, and I gave them a lot of answers I wasn’t sure of.  Then I went home and moped.

The next day I sat down and started to write out another character sketch.  Who did I want this boy to be?  Who was he, really, under all the random crap I wrote in my MS?  What was his core?  Was it in the text?  I wrote everything I could think of about this boy, and then went back and read my original character sketch.  I was surprised as to how similar they were, but I still wasn’t happy with who he was.  So I went back and re-read the one scene that I was sure had his true voice in it, and then I mulled.  For days.

What I’ve realized today is that somehow in the last few days I switched from mulling over who this character is to procrastinating all work on the revision.  My thoughts went from “What does he really want?” to “Is he any good?  Is any of this story any good?” to worrying that I can’t write at all.  What if I’m a fraud, and can only write scenes, but can’t string together a whole narrative?  What if my book sucks?  What if all my books suck?

Um, not so productive.

This morning I reminded myself of two things.  First, even if my book sucks, it doesn’t mean that I suck, or that I’m a horrible writer.  I’ve been told enough times that my writing is good that I’ve got no business sitting around feeling sorry for myself.  Second, of course my book sucks.  It’s a first draft and like a lot of first drafts it’s got problems.  A lot of problems.  But there’s nothing there that can’t be fixed, and I have the tools to be able to fix it.  I just need to stop sulking over what I didn’t get right the first time.

So, it’s back to revision prep for me.  I’m reviewing my plot and subplots to make sure everything that needs to be in the book is in the book, and to see what I can cut.  And I’m reviewing all my characters to see how they’re coming across on the page.  As for this particular boy, he’s still illuding me.  He doesn’t want me to know his deepest darkest fears.  But I’m going to keep working until I figure him out.

Beginning at the End

A few weeks ago I wrote “The End” on a manuscript for the first time. It’s not the first novel that I’ve written, but it’s the first novel in which I’ve actually written the final scene. I usually know what the final scene is before I even begin to write the book; it’s what I’m writing to get to. So when I get to that point in the draft where I know everything else that happens, when I’ve written up to that last scene, if the book doesn’t actually feel done, I stop writing. I’ve been using that scene like a cupcake – it’s the reward I’ll earn when the book is really, truly done. With this latest manuscript, however, I really wanted to write that scene, even if I had to make myself do it. And I really did have to push myself into it. But when I finally did it, it was the most exhilarating feeling. Seeing the characters come all the way to the end, writing their final words and actions, made me feel so warm and fuzzy inside the I was grinning about it for days afterward.

Now that’s not to say the book is done. Far from it. I’ve taken a few weeks off from the MS with the intention of writing something else, but try as I might I can’t get this book out of my head. In the last few weeks I’ve gotten so many ideas for how to rework the story – places where I can go deeper into the characters, where I can push them further, and push the story further. With previous manuscripts where I didn’t write the final scene, I’ve felt undone, like I’m in a never-ending first draft. But by writing that last scene it’s as if I’ve given myself permission to rethink the entire book. I may have written “The End” but really I’m at a new beginning.

This past Tuesday I participated in SCBWI-WWA’s The Great Critique, where writers break out into small groups to give and receive feedback on the first five pages of their manuscripts. Each group is lead by a published author. The first five pages of this latest MS have been critiqued so many times that I didn’t think I’d hear anything new, but it turns out I got some really great suggestions. And so begins the next phase of my writing. To fix, to go deeper, and to make better.

Do you write “The End” or have a ritual that moves you out of draft mode and into revision mode?

And since I haven’t said it yet, welcome to my blog. :)