Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Time Heals All... Flaws?

I've been thinking about revisions lately. A couple of months ago, while working on my final-year portfolio, I asked my creative writing tutor (the brilliant Jo Baker) how long it took her to make her novels exactly what she wanted them to be. 

Her answer?

"Well, I still haven't managed to do that," she said, laughing. 

I asked her why, of course. I mean, was it because no book is ever going to be as perfect as you hoped it would be in your head? Is it because characters can rebel and refuse to be exactly what you want them to be (but there, after all, is where the story's life is, don't you think?)

Jo told me that it's partly not being able to get things the way they are in your head, which I could understand. But she also mentioned that it's because, over time, what you want from your story changes. Not a lot, maybe, but enough to make you feel oddly discontented with what you were so pleased about last month.

This is so true for me now. In my current, edited manuscript of ECHOES (the full manuscript that's still out with agents, being considered), I have a scene in which two characters on the run, in an attempt to forget they're being hunted for a little while, go wandering around London. While this felt right and in character at the time, and even after several rounds of revisions, I now feel irritated by this. Yes, it still kind of works, but it's also not appropriate to that chapter and that part of the story, and I think it diminishes the impact of the tension and conflict in those pages.

Maybe it can be re-written to work better? Maybe it should be scrapped altogether? Either way, it's not the only small thing niggling at me, and I now feel like my book needs another round of revisions.

Question is, does time away from a project give you necessary perspective, and how much of this perspective should you trust? Should you revise a book every single time you feel a little discontented with it, or should you just let it be sometimes and put your discontent down to restlessness? Does waiting to hear from agents/editors/readers contribute to this feeling of discontent with your story?

Is a book ever really complete? Or can it always stand more editing, even if that editing at some point stops being helpful and becomes something that takes away from your original story?

Do you ever struggle with this kind of thing? Does time reveal flaws in your project you never saw before, or does it just make you restless and start picking at tiny things that aren't really a problem?

On an unrelated note, do join my Character Interview Blogfest! Sign-up sheet is in the sidebar, and I can't wait to read all your entries!


  1. It's like you've read my mind. I'm having the same problem. I think one of my characters is too cardboard. She has no history, she's just *there*. Thing is, I don't really need her life background for the story and I can't think of anyplace to add tidbits without it seeming to intrude.

    Let us know how you work it out. I'm curious. :-)

  2. Oh dear I have that problem too. It starts with blog posts, for me - never mind any actual writing... I just can't stop myself from hitting the 'edit' button and fixing things that ain't broke!

  3. I usually wake up in the middle of the night, annoyed by something my characters have said and did (or not said and did). My college creative writing professor once asked me about something I'd written: What are your characters' motivations? I've been haunted by this ever since - I am constantly fretting over motivations. WHY are they doing something? I always see room for improvement in my writing.

  4. I definitely need space and distance to really see what's wrong with a project, and even then I find it difficult! But for me, time gives me a little bit of objectivity!

  5. Really, it applies to all walks of life - human beings are unsatisfied by nature, that's why we continue to evolve and develop (well, sort of!!). We always strive for something better, and something more perfect. "Grass is always greener on the other side". Sometimes, things are good, and its nice to be able to take a step back and appreciate it.

    With writing in particular, it seems such a moody process, with different mindsets being visible throughout a piece of work hundreds of pages long! I bet the greatest writers would come back a decade after their works, and try to re-write whole sections. Unfortunately, the profession seems to lend itself to perfectionists!!

  6. >>Question is, does time away from a project give you necessary perspective, and how much of this perspective should you trust<<

    Yes, absolutely. It's hard to put a book away for weeks (or months), but there just isn't any substitute for the perspective you gain from doing that.

    I found I have a folder of ideas, notes, outlines, etc, so I've never got a shortage of other projects I can work on while I've got something simmering.

  7. Consensus: writing a book just never ends.